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Clinton dodges a bullet on her 2nd Amendment evolution

Clinton dodges a bullet on her 2nd Amendment evolution
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at Wednesday's debate in Las Vegas. (Robyn Beck / AFP-Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of grief for her answer to a question about gun control at her debate Wednesday with Donald Trump. But Clinton dodged what could have been a more lethal political bullet because Trump failed to press her aggressively on her claim that she has always supported an individual right to own a gun.

Charles C.W. Cooke of the National Review mocked Clinton for suggesting that the Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller, which affirmed an individual right to keep and bear arms under the 2nd Amendment, concerned a law designed to "protect toddlers from guns."

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"This is flatly incorrect," Cooke wrote. "Heller, as anyone who has read it knows, revolved around the question of whether the government in Washington, D.C., could legally ban handguns entirely. It had nothing to do with 'toddlers.' "

Actually, one part of the ordinance arguably addressed the possibility that a 2-year-old might come upon a gun. That was a provision requiring that  "any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering it inoperable."

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For that reason, PolitiFact, which has had to work overtime in this election, rated Clinton's comments about the Heller decision in the debate as "half true."

Much more problematic – if only Trump had been able to seize on it – was Clinton's insistence that "I respect the 2nd Amendment [and] I also believe there's an individual right to bear arms."

Trump did say that Clinton had been "extremely angry" about Heller, but (surprise) he didn't seem well-versed on the law struck down by that decision. He could have pointed out that, unlike Barack Obama, who welcomed the Heller decision in 2008, Clinton made a comment as recently as last year that seemed to condemn it.

In remarks at a fundraiser captured on a leaked audiotape, Clinton said: "The Supreme Court is wrong on the 2nd Amendment. And I am going to make that case every chance I get."

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It's not a smoking gun, but it sounds as if Clinton was echoing the usual liberal critique of Heller – that the court erred in finding an individual right to bear arms rather than confining the right to a "well-regulated militia." (In May, a campaign aide told Bloomberg Politics that Clinton thought Heller was "wrongly decided.")

By contrast, here is what Obama said in 2008:

"I have always believed that the 2nd Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice [Antonin] Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe."

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Obama was ahead of his time. Gun-control advocates who lambasted the court for the Heller decision increasingly are accepting it, and choosing to emphasize the leeway it allows for some regulation.

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This evolution is reminiscent of the way some in the pro-choice movement, who were initially aghast at the Supreme Court's 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey ruling upholding restrictions on abortion in Pennsylvania, later accepted the court's description of that ruling as a reaffirmation of the "essential holding" Roe vs. Wade.

Hillary seems to have evolved in a similar fashion in her attitude toward Heller; but (not for the first time) Obama got there first.

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