Hillary Clinton: Gun Laws Are ‘Way Out of Balance’

After avoiding the heated political issue for years, the former secretary of State says we need to “rein in” gun laws.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaks at the University of Miamis BankUnited Center on February 26, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
May 6, 2014, 8:11 a.m.

Hil­lary Clin­ton has mostly steered clear of con­ten­tious do­mest­ic polit­ic­al is­sues in re­cent years, but on Tues­day, she said gun laws need to be reined in.

Speak­ing at a Na­tion­al Coun­cil for Be­ha­vi­or­al Health con­fer­ence out­side of Wash­ing­ton, Clin­ton was asked about the role guns play in sui­cides. While Clin­ton said she sup­ports Second Amend­ment rights, she ad­ded that there needs to be a prop­er trade-off between safety and free­dom, and that things have swung too far to­ward the lat­ter.

“I think again we’re way out of bal­ance. 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,” she said.

She re­ferred to re­cent high-pro­file in­cid­ents of minor dis­putes in movie theat­ers or park­ing lots that es­cal­ated in­to leth­al shoot­ings, say­ing, “That’s what hap­pens in the coun­tries I’ve vis­ited that have no rule of law.”

She de­cried new laws pro­lif­er­at­ing across the coun­try that al­low people to carry weapons in churches, bars, and oth­er pub­lic places, say­ing that they will only lead to more deadly vi­ol­ence that could oth­er­wise be avoided. “At the rate we’re go­ing, we’re go­ing to have so many people with guns,” she con­tin­ued, “in set­tings where “¦ [they] de­cide they have a per­fect right to de­fend them­selves against the gum chew­er or the cell-phone talk­er.”

When she ran for pres­id­ent in 2008, Clin­ton spoke about the need for “bal­ance” in gun laws, but she has been able to avoid the is­sue since it dom­in­ated the na­tion­al polit­ic­al de­bate after the Sandy Hook ele­ment­ary school shoot­ing in late 2012. She was sec­ret­ary of State at the time of the mas­sacre, a po­s­i­tion that kept her out of do­mest­ic polit­ics. Early last year, she be­came a private cit­izen and thus had no ob­lig­a­tion to speak out on is­sues she chose not to ad­dress.

As pres­id­ent, her hus­band, Bill Clin­ton, fought hard to im­ple­ment new gun-con­trol laws in the 1990s, which, as Hil­lary Clin­ton ac­know­ledged Tues­day, cost him polit­ic­ally.

At the con­fer­ence of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, Clin­ton also spoke per­son­ally about sui­cide, say­ing she has known sev­er­al people who took their own lives. She re­ferred, but not by name, to Vince Foster, the Clin­ton White House law­yer whose sui­cide sparked right-wing con­spir­acy the­or­ies, say­ing she wishes she and oth­ers around him had been bet­ter able to spot warn­ing signs.

Clin­ton also chose to touch on an­oth­er do­mest­ic polit­ic­al is­sue when she scru­tin­ized con­ser­vat­ives’ calls to cut taxes on the wealthy in the hopes of cre­at­ing more jobs. “What’s the evid­ence for that? Really?” she said, ur­ging that the coun­try em­ploy a more em­pir­ic­al ap­proach to pub­lic policy.

The former first lady also seemed to take a shot at tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans, though she did not men­tion them by name. “Don’t vote for someone who proudly says they will nev­er com­prom­ise,” she told the audi­ence. And “don’t give them any money. Find someone in your party who’s reas­on­able … who’s not go­ing to Wash­ing­ton proudly to des­troy what our Founders built.”

Clin­ton also spoke can­didly and at length about what goes in­to a de­cision to run for of­fice. She said there are real “costs” in terms of pri­vacy that she is cur­rently mulling. “Ob­vi­ously I’m think­ing about that right now,” she said. “Stay tuned.”

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