Morning Joe Claims to Support Second Amendment, Ends Up Arguing For Banning Practically All Guns

On Tuesday’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough returned in fine form to play the part of the impassioned, moderate conservative who completely supports the Second Amendment, but just wants some sensible gun controls too. However, by the end of the show, Joe had argued for banning most legal weapons currently in Americans’ possession while simultaneously revealing a complete lack of knowledge about basic gun terminology.

The first significant statement that Scarborough made about gun control revealed a disturbing lack of understanding of the issues at play in the gun debate:

[C]ertainly after Newtown we talked about it. [...] I talked about it nonstop for about six months, the need for increased background checks, wondering why people needed to buy these semi-automat-, you can call, you can call them automatic, you know, weapons. And then people say: well, automatic weapons have been banned since [sic] 1930s. Then you go: okay, semiautomatic weapons. Then they go: [mocking tone] well, but hold on here trying to take away my pistol. [back to Joe’s opinion] It's all a circular, a game of semantics. But Clint, for those that would resist any attempts to limit the madness of the proliferation of guns across this country, the one point they always seem to have on their side is–well all the things you're asking for, Joe, wouldn't have stopped Newtown. [...] But you talk to any law enforcement officer, you talk to Bill Bratton, you talk to people that are, that we praise every day for keeping us safe, they’ll all say: there's no reason Americans should have military style weapons in their possession.

Joe, this isn’t a semantics game. It’s a basic facts game. Semi-automatic weapons shoot once every time you pull the trigger. Automatic weapons fire more than once for every trigger pull. This is really not that hard to comprehend. Many people’s self-defense handguns are semi-automatic, so if you want to ban or confiscate semi-automatic guns, you are talking about outlawing tens of millions of guns. Not only that, but even with the “madness” of gun “proliferation” in the U.S., neither violent crime in general nor murder and nonnegligent manslaughter have been on an upward trend in the past couple of decades.

Also, Joe’s statement that “any law enforcement officer” would say that no Americans should have semi-automatic weapons is dubious at best, as he provides no evidence for such a broad assertion. However, former FBI Special Agent Clint Watts expressed complete agreement with Joe’s bold claim before Joe continued on:

And after Newtown I had several pretty tough debates with some very good friends and at the end of the day there's only one reason for somebody to have these weapons in their hands. [...] They will not say it in a radio debate or a TV debate. But it's because they think the government is coming to get them and they want to have a stockpile of weapons, and it, so it's to kill American soldiers or members of the American government. Now there are some people that just like collecting and shooting. Well, fine. You can do what other countries do: register ‘em and put ‘em, you know, in the gun clubs where they stay there.

Putting aside the question of the need to defend oneself or one’s family and friends from a tyrannical government, Joe’s assertion that that is the only reason to have semi-automatic weapons is asinine. Has Joe heard of hunting, self-defense, sport-shooting, or any of the other myriad reasons why someone would have such a gun? Apparently he has, as he and the rest of panel mentioned a couple of these other reasons at various points during the broadcast.

However, Joe’s suggestion of mandatory registration of guns and confining guns to the premises of gun clubs is even stranger. This latter item would constitute a restriction far more stringent than even some of the most restrictive gun laws in countries like Mexico, where some people are, for example, still allowed to keep shotguns at home for hunting dangerous animals.

When Watts finally got a word in between Scarborough’s bouts of ranting, the former Special Agent and MSNBC contributor nonsensically declared: "We're one of the only countries that legislates that the offender has the offense over police and law enforcement. I, we're talking about silencers right now being put out-. [...] These are offensive weapons."

Watts’s claim that our country “legislates that the offender has the offense over police” is completely incomprehensible. Many, if not most, police departments everywhere from major cities to small towns have access to military-grade weapons such as AR-15 variant assault rifles, submachine guns, and even armoured personnel carriers, so Watts’s intent here was unclear.

Moreover, his claim that silencers are offensive weapons is also laughable. First off, silencers almost never actually make guns silent, but they do help to protect the hearing of those that use them for either target shooting, hunting, or home defense. They do not make weapons more “offensive” or powerful.

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After listening to a brief report from NBC News senior national correspondent Chris Jansing about the potential causes of the mass shooting, especially in relation to the shooter’s potential mental state, Scarborough picked the topic of gun control back up:

[F]or people at home, I just, I want to put this in proper context. Because, just because somebody is the loudest screamer in a debate doesn’t mean they’re right. Chances are good, if they’re screaming in this debate, they’re in the minority. After Newtown we talked about increased background checks. [...] Would that have done anything here? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. It would make America a safer place. Might keep [...] guns out of the hands of people who abuse their spouses, might keep guns out of the hands of people who abuse their children, might keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Certainly something that law enforcement officers, the cop that protects you wants. Six in ten Americans according to a poll that was taken in middle of last year's campaign, six in ten Americans support a ban on assault style weapons. That's the majority. Now people are gonna say they are coming to take guns. But no, no, actually that's not the case. [...] I think I’m with most Americans. Heller was a Supreme Court case in 2008 that finally said the Second Amendment means what the Second Amendment means, which is: Americans have a right to keep and bear arms. It's not about militias. It's about you having the right to have a gun in your home to protect yourself. Right?

Right. That’s what the operative clause of the Second Amendment clearly says. But, before congratulating Joe on getting something right, let’s not get too optimistic, given that Joe already advocated banning both the overall ownership of any semi-automatic weapons and home ownership of self-defense weapons. Instead, let’s see what Joe said next:

[The Second Amendment’s] not about having an arsenal, though. [...] [E]ven Scalia, even this conservative court, in Heller, said that Second Amendment right only extended to handguns. If other states want to limit the rights of people to have assault style weapons or to have clips that can, you go out and kill 50, you know, 59 people, you know, [...] states have a right to regulate that if they choose to do so.

I’m no legal scholar, but the Supreme Court’s original Heller ruling, although originally about a handgun ban, does not seem to limit itself to protecting handgun ownership. Its syllabus states, in part, that:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose [...]. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

The actual ruling spells out in more detail that weapons “in common use” were of the sort that civilians could use to form adequate militia forces for the defense of their homes and states, which would seem to include weapons that are capable of being used for warfare.

So, it appears that Joe at least oversimplified the Heller ruling, excluding an outright misreading of it, but Joe wasn’t done there. Rather, he went on further and engaged in some classic fear-mongering:

Even the majority of NRA members support sensible gun safety laws. Increased background checks to make sure that the people that have guns are well enough to have those guns and don't have a background that could lead to another Las Vegas or another Orlando or another Newtown. And yet you have the NRA fighting what we all want, what most of us want, and you have Republicans in Congress kowtowing to this special interest group. [...] At some point, they just have to say: really? Me getting re-elected is not worth my children living in a culture where they go to bed at night afraid that tomorrow might be the day that they get shot down. And if you don't think your children aren't filled with that fear, you need to spend more time at home talking to your children, ‘cause they all are.

Joe, if your kids are really scared about being shot every day, then you should be a competent parent and inform them that gun violence and violent crime in general are neither common nor on the increase instead of letting them be irrationally afraid that the guns are coming to get them.

In the second hour of the show, when discussing gun control with Democratic Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, Joe added another class of weapons for banning or confiscation after asserting again that law enforcement universally support banning semi-automatic guns:

REP. HIMES: I think Joe is absolutely right [...] in how law enforcement thinks about this. Look, law enforcement is sometimes on the opposite end of the weaponry that should be in the hands of the United States Marines and our military. So, yes. And I understand that this is tough. How do you define an assault rifle? I get that. It's hard.

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Wait a minute, hold on. Let me stop you there. It is tough. And the gun lobby will always go there. And no matter what you say, you say: ban assault rifles. [imitating opposition] Well they’ve been banned since 193-. [back to his opinion] Okay, well then ban semi-automatic weapons. They go: [mocking tone, imitating opposition] well oh so now you're trying to take my pistol. [back to his opinion] So I’m, let’s keep this simple. Let’s keep this simple: if a civilian has a weapon that can shoot through police armor, go through the policeman's body, go through another person's body and kill both of them at the same time, I think maybe we can define that as something that civilians don't need.

REP. HIMES: That's a pretty good start.

Oh my. Joe essentially argued here for outlawing all rifles, including bolt action or single shot rifles that shoot typical hunting cartridges, which could be anything from .223 to the variety of roughly thirty-caliber rounds that American hunters frequently use. Because Joe did not specify what he meant by “police armour” and we do know that police typically only wear soft kevlar armour, which is not designed to protect against rifle calibers, Joe was, perhaps unintentionally, promoting the banning of millions of rifles that are not even semi-automatic.

So much for “the Second Amendment mean[ing] what the Second Amendment means.” What guns would Joe allow us to "keep and bear?" He never did specify.

The full transcript of the relevant segments follows below:

6:16 AM EST

(...)

WILLIE GEIST: That’s what we have to be honest about: what we can and can’t do to stop it.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: And that’s what we have to be honest about, because, you know, certainly after Newtown we talked about it. I'll put it on my shoulders. I talked about it nonstop for about six months, the need for increased background checks, wondering why people needed to buy these semi-automat-,-

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: [interrupting] They’re still good questions.

SCARBOROUGH: -you can call, you can call them automatic, you know, weapons. And then people say: well, automatic weapons have been banned since [sic] 1930s. Then you go: okay, semi-automatic weapons. Then they go: [mocking tone] well, but hold on here trying to take away my pistol. [back to Joe’s opinion] It's all a circular, a game of semantics. But Clint, for those that would resist any attempts to limit the madness of the proliferation of guns across this country, the one point they always seem to have on their side is–well all the things you're asking for, Joe, wouldn't have stopped Newtown. All of the things you're asking for, Joe, wouldn't have stopped Las Vegas. All the things you're asking, which I think in many cases they may have very good points. But you talk to any law enforcement officer, you talk to Bill Bratton, you talk to people that are, that we praise every day for keeping us safe, they’ll all say: there's no reason Americans should have military style weapons in their possession.

CLINT WATTS [MSNBC, CONTRIBUTOR; FBI, FORMER SPECIAL AGENT]: That’s right.

SCARBOROUGH: No reason whatsoever. And after Newtown I had several pretty tough debates with some very good friends and at the end of the day there's only one reason for somebody to have these weapons in their hands. Only one reason. And it's only one. They will not say it in a radio debate or a TV debate. But it's because they think the government is coming to get them and they want to have a stockpile of weapons,-

WATTS: [trying to start speaking] This-

SCARBOROUGH: -and it, so it's to kill American soldiers or members of the American government. Now there are some people that just like collecting and shooting. Well, fine. You can do what other countries do: register ‘em and put ‘em, you know, in the gun clubs where they stay there.

WATTS: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: But why do we have a group of laws that a guy can have twenty weapons, twenty-five weapons like this and literally kill, just go hunting for human beings like he did a couple of nights ago?

WATTS: We're one of the only countries that legislates that the offender has the offense over police and law enforcement. I, we're talking about silencers right now being put out-

[Mika and Joe start speaking at same time]
 
BRZEZINSKI: Can you imagine, thousands of people wound have been killed.

SCARBOROUGH: You’re talking about doing that this week, which would make it even more difficult to figure out where the mass murderer is firing from.

WATTS: Yeah. These are offensive weapons. One of the strangest things for me having come from the military, you know, we carried around weapons, went through weapons safety training for weeks. We weren't allowed to carry ammunition with our weapons. You can go buy that exact same weapon I was trained on and the ammunition at any time. At any time that you want. And you can deploy it in any way that you want. It is no coincidence when we look at the death toll of Orlando, when we look at Las Vegas, when you see what terrorists do when they get these weapons in their hands that this escalation over the past two to three years continues to climb. And there's nothing right now that will change that or stop it.

SCARBOROUGH: And remember, Mika, terrorists on the most wanted list have actually had videos done in the past, we talked about this after Newtown, saying if you're in America, here’s what you do: go to a gun show and you can easily buy these weapons and use them against Americans; it's the most efficient way to go out and hunt down and kill Americans.

BRZEZINSKI: It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy.

(...)

6:23 AM EST

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Mika, we ought to close this out ‘cause we have talked some about policy here, which it's so interesting. I was trying to stay off Twitter as much as I could yesterday as people were talking about this because, it does, it always brings out the worst in people. But I did pick up some people saying: oh, well you can’t talk about guns right now. It’s like saying you can't talk about climate change when we have 87 hurricanes coming back-to-back. We can have the debate. I may not agree with you. Right?

BRZEZINSKI: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: But we can at least talk about it. But, I just, for people at home, I just, I want to put this in proper context. Because, just because somebody is the loudest screamer in a debate doesn’t mean they’re right. Chances are good, if they’re screaming in this debate, they’re in the minority. After Newtown we talked about increased background checks. Nine out of ten Americans, nine out of ten Americans support background checks, enhanced background checks. Would that have done anything here? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. It would make America a safer place. Might keep hands out of, guns out of the hands of people who abuse their spouses, might keep guns out of the hands of people who abuse their children, might keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Certainly something that law enforcement officers, the cop that protects you wants. Six in ten Americans according to a poll that was taken in middle of last year's campaign, six in ten Americans support a ban on assault style weapons. That's the majority. Now people are gonna say they are coming to take guns. But no, no, actually that's not the case. Like Mike Barnicle might be for more extensive gun control than me. Maybe Mika is for less than me. But, you know, I think I’m with most Americans. Heller was a Supreme Court case in 2008 that finally said the Second Amendment means what the Second Amendment means, which is: Americans have a right to keep and bear arms. It's not about militias. It's about you having the right to have a gun in your home to protect yourself. Right? It's not about having an arsenal, though. And even Scalia, even Scalia, even this conservative court, in Heller, said that Second Amendment right only extended to handguns. If other states want to limit the rights of people to have assault style weapons or to have clips that can, you go out and kill 50, you know, 59 people, you know, by just firing guns in [sic] crowd and continuing, well, states have a right to regulate that if they choose to do so. Connecticut certainly has. Other states certainly have. But the thing is, people screaming today, they are in the minority. The NRA–in the minority on these issues. Even the overwhelming majority of Republicans support sensible gun safety laws. Even the majority of NRA members support sensible gun safety laws. Increased background checks to make sure that the people that have guns are well enough to have those guns and don't have a background that could lead to another Las Vegas or another Orlando or another Newtown. And yet you have the NRA fighting what we all want, what most of us want, and you have Republicans in Congress kowtowing to this special interest group. And at some point, they’ve just gotta stop. At some point, they’ve just got to say: enough! At some point, they just have to say: really? Me getting re-elected is not worth my children living in a culture where they go to bed at night afraid that tomorrow might be the day that they get shot down. And if you don't think your children aren't filled with that fear, you need to spend more time at home talking to your children, ‘cause they all are.

(...)

7:07 AM EST

SCARBOROUGH: I can focus on this incident. Gonna help you out here, how you can focus on this incident and ask why a guy has three dozen guns that are suitable for,-

BRZEZINSKI: [interjecting] An arsenal.

SCARBOROUGH: -suitable for, you know, running on the beaches of Normandy and shooting Nazis. Again, don’t listen to pundits, don't listen to politicians. Talk to any law enforcement officer in America who is responsible for protecting you, your family, my family, the families of Chicago in this country, and ask those law enforcement officers whether they think that guy or any civilian should even have one. They will tell you, Bratton will tell you: no! Right?

BARNICLE: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: [inaudible] will tell you: no!

GEIST: And that, and congressman, that's what I meant by getting specific. So are you talking about then a ban on semi-automatic rifles, for example?

REP. JIM HIMES [D-CT]: Um, yes. I think Joe is absolutely right. And I think he's right in how law enforcement thinks about this. Look, law enforcement is sometimes on the opposite end of the weaponry that should be in the hands of the United States Marines and our military. So, yes. And I understand that this is tough. How do you define an assault rifle? I get that. It's hard.

SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Wait a minute, hold on. Let me stop you there. It is tough. And the gun lobby will always go there. And no matter what you say, you say: ban assault rifles. [imitating opposition] Well they’ve been banned since 193-. [back to his opinion] Okay, well then ban semi-automatic weapons. They go: [mocking tone, imitating opposition] well oh so now you're trying to take my pistol. [back to his opinion] So I’m, let’s keep this simple. Let’s keep this simple: if a civilian has a weapon that can shoot through police armor, go through the policeman's body, go through another person's body and kill both of them at the same time, I think maybe we can define that as something that civilians don't need.

REP. HIMES: That's a pretty good start.

SCARBOROUGH: Define, they, and let them define their way around that one.

(...)

 

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