Washington Week

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Trump vs. Clinton: Gun Control

By Jenna Goff and Joan Greve
Washington Week Fellows

This campaign season has been dogged by questions over gun control, as attacks like San Bernardino and Orlando continue to rock the country. But presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have very different answers on how to address the violence.

In the weeks leading up to the November election, Washington Week will cover the candidates’ positions on an array of controversial issues. We have already covered the economy and terrorism, and now we look into Trump and Clinton’s views on gun control. 


Background checks

While 75% of Trump supporters say they favor background checks for private and gun show sales, Trump himself does not believe in expanding the national background check system, though he does generally support it. Trump states that the overwhelming majority of people who go through the background checks are law-abiding citizens, and that “very few criminals are stupid enough to try and pass a background check.” He does, however, support “fixing” the current system so that states submit more criminal and mental health records into the system to prevent these people from obtaining guns.

Clinton has long supported expanded background checks on gun sales. She defended the Brady Bill, which mandated federal background checks on firearm purchases, as First Lady in 1993. Now, Clinton pledges to push for bipartisan legislation for more background checks on all gun sales. She wishes for background checks to cover unlicensed transfers online, gun shows, and sales between anonymous strangers - all of which background checks currently fail to cover.


No-fly? No buy

The question of whether those on terrorism watch lists, such as the “no-fly list,” should be able to carry guns received renewed attention in June, when it was revealed that the Orlando shooter had previously been on a watch list.

Clinton quickly criticized the shooter’s ability to purchase firearms, telling a crowd in Cleveland, “And yes, if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”

Trump’s position appeared less clear-cut. The Republican nominee originally tweeted after the Orlando attack, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.”

But Trump quickly walked that back during an interview with ABC, cautioning against withholding second amendment rights based only on watch lists. He told ABC’s Jonathan Karl, “You know, a lot of people are on the list that really maybe shouldn't be on the list and you know their rights are being taken away so I understand that.”


Relationship with the NRA

Trump received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in May, when Executive Director Chris Cox said at a convention, “Now is the time to unite. If your preferred candidate dropped out of the race, it's time to get over it."

Despite the endorsement, Trump and the gun rights organization have bumped heads in the months since, most notably after the Orlando shooting. The Republican nominee’s comments that one of the nightclub patrons should have had their own gun to stop the shooter did not receive support from the NRA. Cox told ABC, “No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms. That defies common sense. It also defies the law.” Trump later clarified that he was referring to potential security forces, not one of the nightclub’s customers.

Clinton and the NRA are not the closest of allies, if her “F” rating from the organization is any indication. Her platform also promises that, if elected, she will, “Take on the gun lobby by removing the industry’s sweeping legal protection for illegal and irresponsible actions (which makes it almost impossible for people to hold them accountable).”

This hard stance against the NRA is a shift from Clinton’s 2008 position, when she tried to court gun-friendly voters by fondly recalling how she learned to shoot as a child and saying, “It’s part of culture. It’s part of a way of life. People enjoy hunting and shooting because it’s an important part of who they are.”


Mental health and gun sales

The two presidential nominees agree on at least one gun control issue: restricting firearm access to the mentally ill. But their separate justifications for doing so shine light on their policy priorities when it comes to gun control.

Trump’s platform calls for expanding treatment options for the mentally ill and ensuring that those who are violent, a minority among the community, do not obtain weapons. But his position then pivots to address the ways in which gun owners overall suffer as a result of violence by the mentally ill: “And why does this matter to law-abiding gun owners? Once again, because they get blamed by anti-gun politicians, gun control groups and the media for the acts of deranged madmen.”

While Clinton also argues for a wide expansion of mental health treatment in America, her gun control position specifically focuses on the need to keep guns away from the mentally ill. Her platform calls for “closing the loopholes that allow people suffering from severe mental illness to purchase and own guns.”


National Permit to Carry

Trump strongly believes in a citizen’s right to bear arms as guaranteed in the Second Amendment, and as such calls for national concealed carry. “A driver’s license works in every state, so it’s common sense that a concealed carry permit should work in every state,” Trump states in his platform. “If we can do that for driving - which is a privilege, not a right - then surely we can do that for concealed carry, which is a right, not a privilege.” In general, he wants to make it easier for law-abiding citizens to carry guns for self-protection.

Clinton, on the other hand, believes that guns themselves “will not make America safer.” While she does not want to repeal the Second Amendment, she believes in restricting the number of concealed carry permits and requiring comprehensive background checks before a permit can be obtained. “I'm not looking to take people's guns away," she said in July. "But I am looking for more support for the reasonable efforts that need to be undertaken to keep guns out of the wrong hands."



Assault weapons ban

It has been twelve years since America had an assault weapons ban in effect, but Clinton has argued that it is high time to bring back the ban. Speaking just after the Orlando attack, Clinton noted that the AR-15 assault rifle had been used there as well as San Bernardino and Sandy Hook. She went on to tell the Ohio crowd, “We have to make it harder for people who should not have those weapons of war. And that may not stop every shooting or every terrorist attack, but it will stop some and it will save lives and it will protect our first responders.”

Trump, however, has hit back against Clinton’s negative characterization of such weapons. “Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons,’ ‘military-style weapons’ and ‘high capacity magazines’ to confuse people,” Trump’s platform position argues. “Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice. The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.”

The position reflects a reversal for Trump, who wrote in his 2000 book The America We Deserve, "I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun."


Gun sales loopholes

As part of her plan to expand background checks, Clinton pledges to close the “Charleston Loophole” and the gun show and Internet sales loopholes. The “Charleston Loophole" allows gun sales to proceed unchecked if a background check is not completed within three days of purchase. This loophole allowed the alleged Charleston shooter to buy a weapon despite his federal criminal record. Clinton will also tighten gun show and Internet sales loopholes, taking administrative action to ensure that these gun sellers are subject to the same “common sense” rules and background checks as gun stores.

Trump has not spoken out much on gun sales loopholes. He wants to get guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and into the hands law-abiding citizens, but has not addressed how he would handle loopholes in gun sales to do so. In response to Clinton’s statements in June that she would close the Charleston, gun show and online loopholes, however, Trump said: “Her plan is to disarm law-abiding Americans, abolishing the Second Amendment and leaving only the bad guys and terrorists with guns.”



Photo via Flickr / Michael Dorausch