Washington Bureau

05.07.14

Hillary Clinton Picks a Fight With the NRA

In a speech Tuesday, Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows by calling for increased restrictions on carrying firearms in public.

It feels like the 1990s again, with Monica Lewinsky in the news and a Clinton calling for increased gun control measures.

In a speech Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the current wave of state laws allowing citizens to freely carry firearms in public places. While speaking at the National Conference on Behaviorial Health outside Washington, D.C., Clinton said “I think again we’re way out of balance [in regulating firearms]. We’ve got to rein in what has become almost an article of faith that almost anybody can have a gun anywhere at any time. And I don’t believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people.” The former New York senator and potential 2016 presidential candidate made the statement in reference to a question about the role of firearms in suicides.

Clinton worried that the ability of gun owners to freely carry weapons in public would lead to an increase in shootings in places like movie theaters over disputes as mundane as someone talking loudly on a cellphone. In her opinion, “That’s what happens in the countries I’ve visited where there is no rule of law and no self-control, and that is something that we cannot just let go without paying attention.”

The call for increased gun control measures in Clinton’s speech raised eyebrows. After all, the Republican takeover in Congress in 1994 has been credited to Bill Clinton’s advocacy of the now-expired ban on assault weapons, which he narrowly pushed through just two months before the 1994 election. In the intervening years, the gun lobby has since made itself one of the most formidable political institutions in Washington, D.C., and has managed not only to thwart any new gun control legislation but successfully roll back existing federal restrictions on firearms.

Yet, it doesn’t come with a political price for Clinton, who would never be the candidate of the gun lobby in a general election. The former Secretary of State’s criticism of gun laws was relatively mild. She didn’t call for the renewal of the assault weapons ban or for the enactment of the Manchin-Toomey proposal on expanding background checks for gun buyers, which failed in the Senate in the aftermath of the shootings in Sandy Hook, let alone more stringent measures. Instead, Clinton condemned the new trend in states to allow gun owners to carry firearms in almost any public place, the most notable recent example being a law passed in Georgia which allows guns to be carried into bars, churches and government buildings. 

Gun control is sure to be an issue for years to come and Clinton will likely address it further if she mounts a bid for the presidency. However, it’s a sign of how far the debate has shifted that pro-gun control advocacy is now not about a ban on assault weapons but instead simply an effort to prevent gun owners from carrying handguns into bars and movie theaters.