Donald Trump and Second Amendment People
Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.
— Donald Trump, August 9, 2016.
There is so, so much to say. So I’ll start at the beginning.
First, notwithstanding what Donald Trump may say (and say over and over), Hillary Clinton does not want to abolish the Second Amendment. Nor does she even want to essentially abolish the Second Amendment. This one is easy. Let’s look at Politifact (the second time they have reviewed the claim by Trump, this time after he began using the word “essentially” to describe what he claims Clinton wants to do):
We found no evidence of Clinton ever saying verbatim or suggesting explicitly she wants to abolish the Second Amendment. The bulk of her comments suggest the opposite: She wants to enact stricter gun control, but has no objection to responsible gun ownership.
Note that Politifact originally reviewed and found the claim that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment to be false in May 2016 (before Trump added the adverb “essentially” to his claim). Yet here we are, three months later, and Trump is still making the false claim. But lying about what your political opponent intends is standard political operating procedure, so it’s hard to get too worked up over that, though most politicians when called out on perpetuating a falsehood will usually drop that attack and pivot to another issue. But Trump can never admit to being wrong, so…
But that brings me to the next point in my analysis of Trump’s comment. He says that Clinton wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment. I wonder if Trump has any understanding of how the process to amend the United States Constitution even works. I ask that because, if he did, he would know that while the President may have a loud voice he (or she) has literally no role to play in the amendment process. None.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
United States Constitution, Article V. See any role for the President in the text of Article V? I didn’t think so. So even if Clinton did want to abolish the Second Amendment, she couldn’t without a whole lot of help from Congress and three-quarters of the states.
Then Trump doubles down on the fact that he doesn’t understand how the Constitution works when he says that there is “nothing you can do” if Clinton “gets to pick her judges”. Apparently, besides having never read Article V of the Constitution, Trump is also unaware of the provisions of Article II Section 2 of the Constitution:
[The President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.
Trump seems to have forgotten the fact (or perhaps never knew) that after the President nominates a candidate to be a judge, the Senate must consent to the nomination. Of course, it’s somewhat hard to believe that Trump doesn’t know this given that one issue in this electoral contest is the fact that President Obama exercised his constitutional right and obligation to nominate a judge to replace Justice Scalia but the Senate has refused to take up that nomination with Republicans arguing that the American people should elect a new President to make that nomination. In other words, the Senate is preventing President Obama from appointing the judge that he picked. So tell me again, Donald, why it is that there will be “nothing you can do” if President Clinton were to pick her judges? Elected Senators could vote down the nomination or be like today’s Republican-led Senate and refuse to even consider the nomination (and thus avoid their constitutional responsibility). So perhaps we should take Trump’s claim of “nothing you can do” as an admonition against the Senate for refusing to consider the President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
Which of course brings us to the final part of Trump’s statement. I’ll repeat it:
if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.
(Emphasis added.) Now I think that it is important to consider the temporal arrangement of words and thoughts here. Trump begins the thought with the hypothetical statement “if she gets to pick” before moving on to what can be done. So if she gets to pick then nothing you can do. But then he modifies that. If she gets to pick then nothing you can do but maybe Second Amendment people can do something. I mention this because one of the responses from the Trump campaign and Trump supporters is that what he meant was for gun rights advocates (Second Amendment people) to unify as a voting block to vote to elect Trump. But that formulation doesn’t really work with Trump’s actual words because the way he framed things was with regard to what could be done if she gets to pick her judges. He didn’t frame it in terms of stopping her from becoming President and thereby preventing her from picking judges; rather, he framed it as what could be done after she is the President and has the right to nominate judges: “[N]othing you can, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is…”. In other words, if we read what Trump said and not what his campaign or supporters want us to think he said, then it should be obvious that he was talking about what people can do once she is President. And his answer was, at first, “nothing” only to be modified by “maybe” — for the Second Amendment people.
Thus the question becomes what, precisely, could Second Amendment people do, after Clinton has become President and picks judges. Add to the query the further question of what it might be that Second Amendment people could do that others (like First Amendment people or Nineteenth Amendment people or just people) could not? What differentiates Second Amendment people from the larger body politic or of groups who may frame and focus their issues around other amendments or provisions of the Constitution. Hmm. What could it be? What is different about the Second Amendment?
Or, perhaps expressed differently, guns and the desire to hold and use them to stop the paranoid fear of government tyranny. (Consider my previous posts Do I Have the Right to Take Up Arms Against the Government? or Guns in America (part 2) [sorry for the missing images…].)
Trump’s comment, no matter how his supporters may want to spin things, was a dog whistle (belling of the cat?) to those who oppose any reasonable gun regulations. In our supposedly civil society, we are (or should be) reluctant to believe that anyone would use exhortations to violence as a part of a political campaign. But we’ve seen repeated examples of violent rhetoric from Trump (not to mention actual violence playing out at and around Trump rallies with Trump acting as cheerleader- or instigator-in-chief). You and I may not want to hear Trump’s words as an incitement to violence, but to those who believe that that Kenyan Muslim Barrack Hussein Obama or Hillary “Lock Her Up” Clinton are coming to take their guns, that is exactly how Trump’s words are likely to be perceived.
References to “Second Amendment remedies” and similar gun-based or violent rhetoric have become more and more common on the right. It was just back in 2011 when Sarah Palin said to her supporters, “'Don't Retreat, Instead – RELOAD” and included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on a list of legislators to be targeted. Rep. Giffords, you’ll recall, was the target of an assassination attempt. Perhaps the best known example was the statement by Sharron Angle who was running for Senate in Nevada when she said, “if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” Or there was the statement by Joni Ernst during her successful bid to be elected to the Senate from Iowa (before she made Trump’s short list for vice presidential nominees), talking about her right to defend herself “from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important”. There is a strong undercurrent among Republicans (and, I presume, Trump supporters) that violence may be necessary to stop a government with which they disagree. Trump’s dog whistle politics won’t do anything to calm the situation (especially not when he is also telling his supporters, in advance, that the election will be “rigged”).
And it is to this last point that Trump was really … um … aiming. As I’ve referenced numerous times on this blog, there is a cohort of Americans that really believe that the government is tyrannical (or will soon become so) and that it is coming for them. Now Trump is adding to that fire by telling them that the election will be rigged and that once elected, President Clinton will be coming for the guns when she abolishes the Second Amendment. These people believe, in essence, that they need to keep their guns to prevent the government from coming to take their guns. Or something.
Brett Lunceford, a former professor who has researched the political discourse around guns, said these sort of remarks and actions feed into a belief that “the Second Amendment was put in place to overthrow the government if need be."
“[Trump’s] throwing a bone to that mythology, that, if the government is tyrannical, ‘Well you guys are the ones that can do something about it,’” Lunceford told TPM. “There’s this idea that they’re the ones that can stop tyranny. It’s not about self defense, it’s about defense from the government.”
Gun control advocates say that purveyors of such language take their cues directly from gun industry lobbying groups. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, pointed to NRA Board member Ted Nugent—who has said President Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats should “suck on my machine gun” — and to Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, who in June said voters may “resort to the bullet box” if they don’t like Supreme Court decisions.
“We have seen the radicalized behavior of the NRA leadership, also impact lawmakers and other gun extremists to speak in rhetoric that is dangerous,” Watts said. “The Second Amendment is not a suicide pact. It’s not a manual for vigilante justice.”
For victims of gun violence themselves, Trump's comment had a very specific and acute connotation.
"Responsible, stable individuals won't take Trump's rhetoric to its literal end, but his words may provide a magnet for those seeking infamy. They may provide inspiration or permission for those bent on bloodshed," former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) said in a statement with her husband, Mark Giffords.
Trump Just The Latest On Hard Right To Call For ‘2nd Amendment Remedies’, Talking Points Memo, August 11, 2016.
After receiving condemnation for his comments, and not just from Democrats, Trump and his supporters tried to “fix” his comments with all sorts of explanations (some discussed above), including suggesting that it was a “joke gone bad” (according to Speaker Paul Ryan). The problem is that this fits into a pattern with Trump; one day he says something outrageous and totally unacceptable and then, when criticized or called out for the statement, he claims it was a “joke” or “sarcasm” or misunderstood or simply blames the media. Today he used the defense of sarcasm to try to walk back his repeated claim that President Obama was the “founder of ISIS” (even after he had repeated that statement several times and even after a conservative radio host had given him a chance to walk back that claim yesterday, a chance Trump took to, instead, repeat his claim and express that it was, indeed what he meant). Or remember when Trump appealed to Russia to hack into Clinton’s computers only to suggest that it was a joke when the nearly universal response was condemnation of his call for a foreign power to become involved in the American electoral process?
Trump never apologizes, never acknowledges mistakes, never accepts blame or takes responsibility; rather, in virtually every case in which he crosses one proverbial line or another, he blames the listener for not understanding that it was a joke or sarcasm or blames the media for reporting on what he said. But query what happens if this sort of language is used by a President. What happens if President Trump says, “The Chinese are killing us in trade; killing us. We should bomb their factories to level the playing field.” Saying, “Gee, I was only joking” a few days later after isn’t going to fix the problem that his flippant and dangerous words may have caused.
Words have meanings, but that is a lesson apparently lost on Donald Trump.
Again and again and again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he has no respect for the political process. He has no respect for civility. He has no respect for the truth. And he certainly has no understanding of the Constitution or the effects that words can have. The man is completely unfit, both in terms of mental stability, intellectual capacity, and general temperament to be allowed anywhere near the White House.
Please help me be sure that he doesn’t win in November.