Hillary Clinton on the Second Amendment

Statements on Gun Control Become An Issue in the 2016 Presidential Race

AR-15 Picture
A Denver, Colo., gun dealer holds a Colt AR-15, a weapon that once could be sold to only law enforcement and military but now can be purchased by civilians following the expiration of the Brady Bill. Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has been accused of trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment right to own guns, and even of preparing to repeal the Second Amendment if elected president. "Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment. Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away and she wants to abolish the Second Amendment," Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, said on the campaign trail that year.

Related Story: Was Barack Obama the Most Anti-Gun President Ever?

So does Clinton really want to unwind your right to bear arms? Could a president even repeal a constitutional amendment on their own? Trump and gun-rights advocates believe she does and will, just as they believed Democrat Barack Obama would target the Second Amendment during his eight years in the White House. "If Barack Obama wins a second term in office," the National Rifle Association warned, "our Second Amendment freedom will not survive." 

The NRA is saying the same thing about Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, in the 2016 race: "If she could, Hillary would ban every gun, destroy every magazine, run an entire national security industry into the ground and put your name on a government registration list. If she gets her hands on the Supreme Court and stacks it with just one more justice, every total gun ban she dreams — every confiscation scheme she craves — will stand up in her court and we'll be kissing our Second Amendment freedom goodbye."

What Is the Second Amendment?

The Second Amendment reads:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The amendment is one of the most widely debated; gun-rights advocates portray the text as being clear on establishing the unfettered right of Americans to possess guns, but gun-control advocates often claim the amendment affords the right to members of a "well regulated militia," which doesn't exist today.

What Hillary Clinton Has Said About the Second Amendment

Clinton has said she does not intend to work toward the repeal of the Second Amendment. She has said repeatedly she supports the Second Amendment but she also supports of stronger gun-control measures at the federal level. For example, Clinton has called for background checks on people who buy weapons at gun shows, and for banning gun sales to the mentally ill and those convicted of domestic abuse.

When it comes to the Second Amendment, Clinton has said the following:

  • January 2008: "I believe in the Second Amendment. People have a right to bear arms. But I also believe that we can common-sensically approach this."
  • August 2015: "We are smart enough — compassionate enough — to figure out how to balance legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventive measures."
  • February 2016: “I know we are a smart enough nation to figure out how you protect responsible gun owners' rights and get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them."
  • April 2016: "We can protect our Second Amendment rights AND take commonsense steps to prevent gun violence. It’s just a question of whether we choose to."
  • August 2016: “We have got to do something about gun violence in America. I will take it on. There are many people who face it and know it, but then turn away because it’s hard. It’s a very political, difficult issue in America, but I believe we are smart enough, we are compassionate enough, to figure out how to balance the legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventive measures and control measures so that whatever motivated this murderer, who eventually took his own life, we will not see more deaths — needless, senseless deaths."

    How a President Could Weaken the Second Amendment

    Despite Clinton's many proclamations of support for the Second Amendment, critics have raised suspicions. Many of them are fueled by Clinton's statement, caught on tape, that the U.S. Supreme Court erred in a 2008 decision about the right of individuals to carry guns. The 5-4 ruling in Washington, D.C., vs. Heller struck down a ban on handguns in the nation's capital and marked the first time the high court portrayed the Second Amendment as giving individuals the right to carry guns.

    Clinton reportedly said about the ruling: "The Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment.” That statement led many critics to claim Clinton does not believe the Second Amendment allows individuals to own guns — a claim disputed by her campaign. "Clinton believes Heller was wrongly decided in that cities and states should have the power to craft common sense laws to keep their residents safe, like safe storage laws to prevent toddlers from accessing guns,"her campaign told Bloomberg Politics in 2016.

    The NRA and other critics said Clinton would appoint Supreme Court justices who are like-minded in their alleged belief that the Second Amendment does not pertain to individuals. “If Clinton were president, there can be little doubt that she would choose to nominate those who share her false interpretation of the Second Amendment," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action claimed.

    Trump, too, has repeatedly warned voters that Clinton, if elected president, would undo the Constitutional right to bear arms allowed by the Second Amendment. "If she gets to appoint her judges, she will abolish the Second Amendment. In my opinion, that's what she's going to go for," Trump said at a May 2016 rally. 

    While the Supreme Court cannot repeal a constitutional amendment, its decisions in gun cases can render it impotent. If Clinton were to seat a justice who does not believe the Second Amendment pertains to individuals, "Then the next gun-rights case will transform the Second Amendment into nothing more than a historical artifact of the era when the militia consisted of able-bodied men with muskets over their mantles," attorney David French wrote in the National Review.

    Repealing an Amendment Isn't Realistic

    There's been only one case of a constitutional amendment being repealed, and that was the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States, also known as Prohibition. The repeal required the ratification of a new amendment to the Constitution, the 21st Amendment.

    So repealing the Second Amendment would require a new constitutional amendment — and passing a new amendment would require buy-in from not only Congress but an overwhelming majority of states. With more guns than citizens in the United States, and a third of the country carrying arms, the idea of amending the constitution to ban guns is unrealistic.

    And no, the president of the United States does not have the power to repeal a constitution amendment on his or her own.