Hillary and the Heller Case

  • 26 October 2016
  • NormanL
Hillary and the Heller Case

In the last debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Clinton was asked about her stance on the Second Amendment. She offered a rambling response to moderator Chris Wallace, which included this gem on the Heller case, which confirmed the Second Amendment as an individual right:

You mentioned the Heller decision. And what I was saying that you referenced, Chris, was that I disagreed with the way the court applied the Second Amendment in that case, because what the District of Columbia was trying to do was to protect toddlers from guns and so they wanted people with guns to safely store them. And the court didn't accept that reasonable regulation, but they've accepted many others. So I see no conflict between saving people's lives and defending the Second Amendment.

The District of Columbia was not trying to protect its citizens from roving gangs of armed toddlers. As this article notes, the word "toddler" is absent from the court decision in the landmark Heller case, and never appeared in oral arguments. What the District was trying to do was make gun ownership so burdensome as to be useless:

Heller was about 66-year-old police officer Anthony Heller wanting to own and bear a firearm in his own home in order to defend his family.

See, the D.C. gun ban required people who were actually able to get a lawfully owned firearm to keep it “unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device.” This meant that even for the small number of people who could actually keep a gun in the district, it would be useless for self defense as they would have to spend time loading or assembling the gun or dealing with the trigger lock to make it work.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that D.C.’s ban was unconstitutional. Davis wrote that the word “toddler” doesn’t appear in the majority or dissenting opinions or in the 110-page transcript of oral arguments.

But Politifact rated Clinton’s claim as “Half True,” because of course. Clinton’s a Democrat and gets special treatment from the “fact” checking website.

I will note that when Clinton said D.C. was trying to protect toddlers, I believe she was referring to the ban itself and not the Heller case. Politifact found a single petition from the D.C. city government that mentioned children (not specifically toddlers) as part of the reason for the ban.

“The smaller the weapon, the more likely a child can use it, and children as young as three years old are strong enough to fire today’s handguns,” the petition said. The petition mentioned the word “child” or “children” seven times, and also at one point mentioned the “chilling regularity with which handguns were taking the lives of children.”

But Clinton was wrong when she said D.C. was “trying to protect toddlers from guns” with the gun ban. That might have been one justification for the ban —the idea that parents were improperly storing guns, allowing children to get ahold of them and accidentally harm themselves or others—but it was not the main one, nor was it even half the justification. The initial stated purpose for the band was “to protect the citizens of the District from loss of property, death and injury, by controlling the availability of firearms in the community.”

Hillary's fairy tale about toddlers and guns may make the anti-gun folks squeal with delight. But the tale just doesn't hold up under the burden of fact.

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