Gun control debate roils 2016 presidential campaign in wake of UCC massacre

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton © Joshua Roberts
Gun control or gun rights? The ever-polarizing issue has been around for decades, and with the recent shooting in Oregon coinciding with rising competition in presidential politics, the debate is more diverse than ever.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” President Barack Obama said following the shooting deaths of nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon on October 1. Obama acknowledged his reaction was “routine,” but four days later the White House hinted at the possibility of new executive actions.

“The president has frequently pushed his team to consider a range of executive actions that could more effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have access to them,” Press Secretary Joshua Earnest said.

Sheriff John Hanlin, whose jurisdiction includes Umpqua, promises not to enforce what he judges to be “unconstitutional” executive actions on gun control. “Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” Hanlin wrote to Vice President Joe Biden after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2013.

With the 2016 campaigns in full swing, however, the presidential contenders are also weighing in on the subject.

Hillary finds her place to the left of Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton earned even more attention with the announcement of her four-point gun control plan. She too alluded to executive action, tweeting, “If Congress refuses to act to end this epidemic of gun violence, I’ll take administrative action to do so.”

Clinton vowed to close the so-called “Charleston Loophole,” where a gun sale is permitted if the background check takes longer than three days. She also wants to ban gun show sales unless a background check is conducted in full. Furthermore, Clinton would overturn a law guarding gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits brought by shooting victims. Finally, she wants to reinstate the 1994 ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

Clinton’s top rival, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), has a less hardcore record on gun control, opposing the assault weapons ban and lawsuits against gun companies that sell firearms which end up being used in committing a crime. However, he tweeted his support for an “instant background check system” on the heels of Clinton’s gun control roll out.

GOP presidential contenders stick to mental illness

On the Republican side, the candidates, who largely agree on gun rights, strove to differentiate themselves or even get off the topic of gun control altogether. While none have proposed specifics, they say mental illness is more the issue at hand than guns.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) scoffed at the idea of gun control, saying it “doesn’t work for crazies.” Ben Carson stressed the “need to be looking at the mentality of these individuals and seeing if there are any early warning clues.” Meanwhile, frontrunner Donald Trump said gun control advocates “don’t blame mental illness, that our mental healthcare is out of whack and all of the other problems.”

Ben Carson’s “Christian” message goes viral

Carson focused on the fact that the Umpqua shooter asked people to state their religion before shooting them. A photo of Carson holding a sign saying “I am a Christian” was shared on Facebook 177,510 times and retweeted on Twitter 7,506 times.

Yes, #IamaChristian.

Posted by Dr. Ben Carson on Friday, October 2, 2015

Carson has also been criticized for saying there is no right to an assault rifle in highly populated areas.

Trump blames gun-free zones

Trump said in a speech that “If you had a couple of the teachers or somebody with guns in that room, you would’ve been a hell of a lot better off,” before mentioning his own New York gun license and making a quick-draw finger gesture. Trump previously supported the 1994 assault weapons ban that Clinton is now campaigning to reinstate.

Bush says “stuff happens,” then stuff happens to him

Though Jeb Bush followed up by saying, “There is always a crisis and the impulse is to always do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do,” it was his initial comment – “stuff happens” – that stuck out.

That phrase is now being used by Clinton not only to advance her policies, but also show her more human side – a goal her campaign set out to accomplish as her email server scandal became a top story.

Will gun control change the presidential landscape?

With the first Democratic primary debate coming up on October 13, differences on gun control between Sanders and Clinton will undoubtedly come up. On the Republican side, top contenders Trump and Carson have less-than-absolutist positions, so other candidates may choose to turn up the heat on that issue come October 28 when the next Republican debate takes place.

Regardless of how national politics settle on the issue, sheriffs like John Hanlin of Douglas County who promise not to enforce more gun control remain a wild card in the gun control/gun rights deck.