Right on cue, the National Rifle Association has unveiled its 2016 presidential election conspiracy theory with the baseless claim that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is harboring a secret plan to confiscate Americans' firearms. But Clinton has never endorsed such a plan and in fact has defended private citizens' right to own guns.
In a May 11 article published in the NRA's magazine and on its lobbying website, the gun group wrote, "Whether or not she understands the Second Amendment, Hillary Clinton disdains and distrusts that freedom," and claimed Clinton "wants control over every aspect of your right to keep and bear arms -- so she can deny it at will."
Clinton's own recent statements about "the right of people to own guns" meant the NRA was forced to juxtapose a series of old Clinton quotes -- some dating back to the late 1990s -- and hope that its readers would make implausible leaps of logic to buy into the conspiracy theory that a President Hillary Clinton would confiscate firearms. The NRA ran a similar fearmongering campaign about President Obama during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections that also had zero basis in fact.
In the article, the NRA purports to describe a secret plan by Clinton to confiscate firearms. The alleged starting point for the plan, however, is based on a distortion of the truth.
The NRA writes, "Last June, Clinton again said that semi-automatic firearms should be banned" -- a reference to a June 17, 2014, CNN Town Hall meeting with Clinton called "Hillary's Hard Choices." During the broadcast, Clinton expressed support for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. (She also said she supported expanding background checks on gun sales.)
The NRA is grossly distorting what Clinton has supported banning by using the term "semi-automatic firearms" interchangeably with "assault weapons." Firearms classified as assault weapons make up only a small subset of all semi-automatic firearms. For example, pistols are typically semi-automatic firearms, but bans on assault weapons only cover a small subset of pistols that have military-style characteristics.
The NRA's distortion is significant because it falsely casts Clinton as an advocate of banning a particularly common class of weapon, when in fact she only called for a ban on weapons with military-style features.
In the article, the NRA asks its readers to make a huge leap of logic and ignore the fact that recently proposed assault weapons bans have not mentioned confiscation; instead, their language specifies that weapons already in circulation would be subject to a grandfather clause.
According to the NRA, "If Clinton plans to ban semi-automatic firearms, as her husband did and as she has repeatedly proclaimed, how would she find them in order to confiscate them?"
To answer this, the group seizes on comments Clinton made in 2000 in support of a Senate proposal to require registration of new handgun sales. (Although popular with the public, national gun registries are not part of the current policy discussions on gun regulation. In fact, a 2013 Senate proposal to expand background checks would have strengthened a decades-old provision that prohibits the national background check system from being used to create a national gun registry.)
The NRA then baselessly links this non-existent firearm registry scheme to gun confiscation, declaring, "Gun registration has been considered the holy grail -- the queen on the chessboard and the key to the kingdom -- by every gun-ban group, every genocidal regime and every would-be tyrant around the world since King George sent his redcoats to seize the colonists' arms at Lexington and Concord. That's not hyperbole. It's history."
The article concludes, "Hillary Clinton's apparent ultimate aim is as direct and undeviating as an argon laser: 'Universal' background checks ... which depend on universal gun registration ... which inevitably, invariably, leads to gun confiscation."
Except gun registration does not "invariably lead to confiscation." For example, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, New York, California, Maryland, Connecticut, and New Jersey all require some form of gun registration but do not confiscate lawfully possessed guns. (This isn't the first time the NRA has relied on distortions to try to prove a non-existent link between registries and confiscation; it portrayed a California program that removes firearms from felons and other prohibited persons as a confiscation threat to law-abiding gun owners.)
The gun group has made no secret of its intention to offer wild attacks on Clinton this election season. At its 2015 annual meeting in April, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said Clinton "will bring a permanent darkness of deceit and despair" to America. In a separate speech at the gathering, LaPierre took aim at Clinton's gender, declaring that Obama "intends to go out with a coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton," and adding, "I have to tell you, eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough."
The NRA's claims about Clinton mirror its long-standing, but never substantiated, accusation that Obama also wanted to confiscate firearms. In 2008, the NRA claimed Obama possessed "a deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms" greater than any presidential candidate in history and would ban the use of guns for self-defense. (PolitiFact rated the NRA's claims about Obama "false.")
In 2011, LaPierre purported to reveal the existence of "a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country," predicting that Obama would wait until his second term to do so.
Leading up to the 2012 election, the NRA compared the prospect of a second Obama term to the 2004 tsunami in South Asia that killed more than 250,000 people. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, it forwarded a new conspiracy theory that Obama would ban all firearm ammunition before he leaves office.
Now if the ammo ban fails to materialize, the NRA has a Clinton conspiracy theory ready for 2016.