Just how badly are Democrats mangling gun issues in their primary campaigns? In a column at The Hill, Jonathan Turley dismantles every argument being made on stage in the presidential debates and campaigns, even while expressing some sympathy for their motives. Joe Biden’s nonsensical claim that 150 million Americans have been killed in the past 12 years through gun violence is the least of the falsehoods being promoted, the George Washington University law professor declares:
The much greater danger, however, is not the statistical but the legal misrepresentations on gun control, and those are not confined just to Biden. After all, cracking down on guns is one of the defining issues for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged to “stop this nationwide madness.” In the debate, Biden dramatically glared into the camera to speak directly to the National Rifle Association, saying that he will fight the organization and the gun manufacturers if elected. The other Democratic candidates have made similar claims that they will reduce gun violence significantly with executive orders and laws.
Such statements are far more dishonest than the statistical flight of fancy promoted by Biden. Gun ownership is an individual constitutional right under the Second Amendment. A constitutional right cannot be reduced or changed by either executive order or legislation. You can only work on the margins of such exercises of constitutional rights, which belies the promise by Bloomberg that these measures would make an “enormous difference.” Elizabeth Warren declared that “we need a president willing to take executive action” to end gun violence without any explanation what she can do to limit an individual right, let alone do it unilaterally.
There’s plenty of claims about fighting the NRA, but at least on the terms the Democratic candidates are laying out, the NRA has little to worry about. In the first place, most of their ire falls on so-called “assault weapons” that are in widespread common use, such as the AR-15, which the Supreme Court will almost certainly not allow to be banned. That weapon class also accounts for a surpassingly small percentage of firearms deaths, which as Turley notes comes primarily from handguns — and are also primarily suicides rather than homicides of others.
Their attacks on gun manufacturers and the 2005 immunity bill that Bernie Sanders backed is also far less significant than the demagoguery suggests. Turley points out that lawsuits over the use of firearms without an actual product failure wouldn’t succeed anyway, as courts routinely dismiss claims against products without evidence of defect. Turley opposed the bill at the time, not because it was bailout for gun manufacturers but because it was entirely unnecessary:
It barred liability for injuries due to the fact that firearms were later used by criminals. The bill saved the industry some litigation costs, but the industry would have prevailed in such actions anyway if they were tried. Product liability and tort actions against manufacturers have uniformly and correctly been rejected by the courts. Guns are lawful products, and holding companies liable for later misuse of such products is absurd. You might as well sue an axe manufacturer for the Lizzy Borden murders.
Thus, even if you remove immunity protections, ban certain magazines or devices, require background checks, or even ban a couple weapon types, the reduction in gun deaths would not likely fall significantly. Individuals still would have a constitutional right to possess guns. Moreover, the vast majority of guns would remain unaffected. That does not mean we should not try to reduce those fatalities or pass these measures. Any saved life is worth the effort. But candidates are misleading voters in suggesting that, if elected, they can dramatically impact the numbers of these cases.
Although Turley doesn’t mention it, the same argument applies to the nostalgia expressed on stage for the Assault Weapons Ban. Gun deaths had already started declining before the ban passed, and they continued to decline after the law expired. The percentage of homicides from long-barrel firearms of all types has always been around 6% or lower, and so-called “assault weapons” are a small subset of this category. Even if someone managed to not just bar all long-barrel weapons but magically made them disappear overnight, it would only have a marginal impact on homicides — and that assumes that the perps didn’t just use a handgun instead.
It’s nonsense all the time, but the demagoguery has gotten so much traction that the truth has no chance of breaking through … at least in a Democratic debate:
Of course, none of that would make for a memorable debate moment for any of the candidates. Biden would be less than riveting if he glared into the camera and poked a figurative National Rifle Association in the chest while saying he would take them on and “marginally reduce the minority of deaths associated with nonsuicidal gun incidents.” That is the reason why there are lies, damned lies, statistics, and presidential debates.
Do Democrats want blockbuster ratings for a new debate? Here’s a suggestion: limit the topic to gun control — a major plank in all their campaign platforms — and have Turley moderate it. By the time it’s over, the Georgetown Law professor might be the first moderator to win the nomination for himself. Not the first one to try, of course, but …