Freedomnomics

Article published Monday, April 25, 2016, at National Review.

On Guns, Clinton Runs Both Left and Right, Depending on Her Audience

By John R. Lott, Jr.

What does Hillary Clinton really believe on guns? This year, she is running to the left of Bernie Sanders. In 2008, she ran well to the right of Obama, arguing against any kind of federal “blanket rules.”

On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton gave an address at Philadelphia’s St. Paul’s Baptist Church. With a nod to Pennsylvania’s high rate of gun ownership, she declared: “There is a Second Amendment, there are constitutional rights. We aren’t interested in taking away guns of lawful, responsible gun owners.”

But in New York City in the fall, she told donors: “The Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment, and I am going to make that case every chance that I get.” In Maryland last Thursday, Chelsea Clinton reiterated that point, promising that her mom would appoint to the Supreme Court justices who would overturn past decisions that struck down local and state gun-control measures. Given that the only laws that the Supreme Court has objected to are complete gun bans or laws that made it a crime to chamber a bullet, one wonders what “constitutional rights” Clinton was talking about preserving in Philadelphia.

Clinton has shown this split personality on guns at other points in the campaign. In the month leading up to the New Hampshire primary, gun control was the focus of a quarter of her campaign ads there. By contrast, she ran not a single gun-control ad in rural areas of Iowa. In Iowa as a whole, only 6 percent of her ads discussed guns in any way.

When asked last October about gun laws in the U.K. and Australia, Clinton responded by extolling their virtues. She spoke highly of the U.K.’s handgun ban and of Australia’s confiscation of a third of legally owned guns. She failed to note that the U.K.’s homicide rate soared by 50 percent in the eight years after the handgun ban took full effect in 1997. The rate later fell, but only after an 18 percent increase in the number of police.

Clinton pointed out that Australia’s homicide rate fell in the wake of confiscation. What she neglected to note is that the rate had been falling even faster in the twelve years before confiscation.

Senator Bernie Sanders often defends his positions on guns by arguing that what makes sense for one part of the country might not make sense for another, such as his home state of Vermont. Clinton has gone so far as to suggest that his argument is racist: “There are some who say that [gun violence] is an urban problem. Sometimes what they mean by that is: It’s a black problem. But it’s not. It’s not black, it’s not urban. It’s a deep, profound challenge to who we are.”

Clinton is being hypocritical. She made Sanders’s exact argument in April 2008, when she was running against Obama in Pennsylvania: “What might work in New York City is certainly not going to work in Montana,” she said. “So for the federal government to be having any kind of, you know, blanket rules that they’re going to try to impose, I think doesn’t make sense.”

On Wednesday, Clinton repeated the false statistic that gun violence claims the lives of “33,000 people a year” in the United States. In fact, in 2014 there were 21,334 firearm suicides, 586 accidental gun deaths, and 8,214 gun murders. Clinton gets to 33,000 by adding to the statistics above roughly 3,000 justifiable homicides by police and civilians.

Also, note that 71 percent of these 30,134 deaths are suicides. Given that Clinton supports assisted-suicide laws, it is a little strange that she lumps together suicides with murders. Research continually shows that banning guns won’t prevent suicides — there are simply too many easy ways to kill oneself. In Japan, which has a suicide rate 54 percent higher than the U.S. rate, many people commit suicide by stepping in front of trains.

Americans use guns to stop violent crime about four times as often as they use guns to commit crime. Banning handguns primarily disarms the good, law-abiding citizens who would otherwise be able to make crime more difficult for criminals. In every place for which data are available, gun bans have been followed by an increase in murder rates.

Clinton keeps pushing laws that do little but disarm law-abiding citizens, especially minorities and the poor. In some places, expanding background checks to private transfers will add at least $125 to the cost of obtaining a gun. Who will be stopped by such costs? America’s poorest and most vulnerable individuals.

It must be confusing to run to the right on guns in one election and to the left in the next. But a little hypocrisy is understandable when you are more intent on scoring political points than on being accurate.

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Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

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