Party Platforms on Gun Rights: GOP Stands Firm, Dems Slide Further Left
These two parties might as well be reading two different Constitutions.
The Republicans’ and Democrats’ respective platforms on the Second Amendment could not be more starkly different. The GOP’s Second Amendment plank has not changed over the years, while the Democratic platform has slid ever further to the gun-grabbing left. The Democrats signal this by titling the relevant section of their platform, “Preventing Gun Violence.” In fact, the words “Second Amendment” are not mentioned at all; they were removed in 2012.
The 2nd Amendment Deleted
In 1980, the Democratic Party’s stance on firearms recognized Second Amendment rights, but limited them to hunting and target shooting.
The Democratic Party affirms the right of sports-men [sic] to possess guns for purely hunting and target-shooting purposes. However, handguns simplify and intensify violent crime. Ways must be found to curtail the availability of these weapons. The Democratic Party supports enactment of federal legislation to strengthen the presently inadequate regulations over the manufacture, assembly, distribution, and possession of handguns and to ban “Saturday night specials.”
In the 2016 platform, even that language has been watered down. The Democrats this year grudgingly admit: “We can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe.” But the second clause here seems likely to swallow up the first.
This year the Democrats have more to say, since they have more restrictions to impose. In 1980, the party platform called for banning “Saturday night special” handguns. This year the party targets so-called “assault weapons.” There is a call to increase federal authority over gun owners and dealers, expand background checks and require registration of all guns sold, even between private parties.
The Republicans: Same Constitution, Virtually Same Platform
In 1980, the Republican platform on the Second Amendment was soundly constitutional:
We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms. Mandatory sentences for commission of armed felonies are the most effective means to deter abuse of this right. We therefore support Congressional initiatives to remove those provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that do not significantly impact on crime but serve rather to restrain the law-abiding citizen in his legitimate use of firearms.
In the 2016 document, the Republicans again strongly support the right to keep and bear arms, and oppose the federal government’s attempts under the Obama administration to restrict those rights. RNC Chair Reince Preibus issued a statement in January denouncing Obama’s executive overreach on gun control.
Clinton and Trump Echo Their Parties
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is bound by these platforms. However, their rhetoric on the campaign trail suggests that there is little difference between Hillary and her party platform on gun control, or between Trump and his party platform on Second Amendment rights. While Clinton has been accused of flip-flopping on numerous issues, supporting gun control is one issue where she has remained consistent. She even ran to the left of avowed socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, accusing him of being soft on guns.
The U.S. Supreme Court’ 2008 landmark decision in Columbia v. Heller held that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear arms. Clinton told a small audience at a private fundraising dinner last fall “the Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment. And I am going to make that case every chance I get.” (That secret speech was recorded and leaked to media.) If elected, Clinton promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Heller.
Clinton also endorsed the Democratic platform on banning assault weapons. “I was proud when my husband took [the National Rifle Association] on, and we were able to ban assault weapons, but he had to put a sunset on so [sic] 10 years later,” she also commented. “Of course Bush wouldn’t agree to reinstate them.”
While Trump was not a defender of the Second Amendment in the past, he has since become a very strong advocate. He has vowed to undo Obama’s executive orders on background checks during his first hour as president.
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