Second Presidential Debate Will Provide Prime Opportunity To Ask Candidates About Background Checks For Gun Sales

As the second presidential debate approaches, the issue of expanded background checks for gun sales is leading in a poll of viewer-submitted questions that will be considered by the moderators. While Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supports expanding background checks, Republican nominee Donald Trump recently told the NRA, which opposes expanded background checks, that he also opposes the policy -- and he has also pushed extreme and inaccurate talking points on guns in GOP primary debates. 

Background Check Question Looms As Candidates Prepare To Debate On October 9

Candidates Prepare For Second Presidential Debate. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will participate in the second presidential debate, which will take place in St. Louis, MO, on Sunday, October 9. ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper will moderate the town hall-style debate, where the audience members will reportedly ask half the questions. [The Washington Post, 9/2/169/29/16

Question About Expanding Background Checks Leads Those Submitted To Open Debate Coalition. The Open Debate Coalition, working in conjunction with the organizers of the presidential debates, created a website to allow people to vote for the questions they believe should be asked during the second presidential debate. As of October 7, the most popular question for the candidates is whether they “support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales.” The second most popular question is how the candidates would protect the Second Amendment. The debate moderators have agreed to consider the 30 questions that receive the most votes. [Open Debate Coalition, accessed 10/7/16]

Trump Recently Told The NRA He Opposes Expanding Background Checks To All Gun Sales

During NRA Q&A, Trump Said Of Universal Background Checks: “I Don’t Support That.” Trump expressed his opposition to expanded background checks during a question-and-answer session with the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox. Trump claimed, “There can never be a so-called ‘universal’ background check, because criminals obviously ignore gun laws”:

[CHRIS COX]: There are a number of laws and regulations that gun control groups have been pushing for years. I’d like to discuss a few of them to get your views. First, do you support so-called “universal” background checks?

[DONALD TRUMP]: There can never be a so-called “universal” background check, because criminals obviously ignore gun laws. That’s what makes them criminals. The research shows that they find someone with a clean record—a “straw purchaser”—to get a gun for them. Or they get a gun from the black market. Or they steal it. We also know that background checks haven’t stopped the mass shooters we’ve seen. In each case, they either passed a federal background check or stole the guns they used. Under current law, purchasing a firearm from a dealer requires a background check, whether in a store, at a gun show or anywhere else—but some want to take that a step further so that even if a firearm is transferred from a father to a son as a gift or between lifelong friends on a hunting trip, the federal government has to intervene and approve the transfer in advance. That burdens law-abiding citizens but doesn’t impact criminals. I don’t support that. [NRA-ILA, 9/29/16]

To read more about the falsehood that background checks don’t stop people prohibited by law from obtaining guns, click here

The NRA, Which Opposes Expanding Background Checks, Unveiled Its Biggest Ad Buy Yet For Trump. On October 5, the National Rifle Association released its biggest ad buy to date, spending $6.5 million on an ad that falsely claims Clinton opposes gun ownership for women. Politico’s Sarah Wheaton wrote that the ad is a play for “millennials and women, groups Trump has struggled to attract.” The ad will run in Ohio, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and on national cable. From an October 5 Politico article: 

The National Rifle Association is out with its biggest ad buy to date, pushing a sympathetic, young voice for gun rights and Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Starting Wednesday, the NRA is spending $6.5 million on a spot featuring a 26-year-old lawyer named Kristi McMains, who said the pistol in her purse saved her life when a man attacked her in a parking garage.

It’s a play not just for rural voters – the NRA’s core base — but also millennials and women, groups Trump has struggled to attract. According to NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker, the ads are running on broadcast networks in Ohio, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as national cable.


In general, the NRA’s ads have been more about attacking Clinton than promoting Trump – some haven’t even mentioned his name. Earlier spots focused on her role in Americans’ deaths in Benghazi or cast her as an elitist hypocrite for wanting to limit gun rights while benefitting from armed protection. While most of the ads have a gun rights angle, the NRA has taken the unusual step of tying in other themes likely to appeal to those who have negative views of Clinton but aren’t totally sold on Trump. [Politico, 10/05/16]

The NRA Is One Of The Top Outside Spenders Backing Trump. According to Federal Election Commission filings collected by ProPublica, the NRA is the second biggest spender in independent expenditures supporting Trump and the second biggest spender on independent expenditures opposing Clinton. [ProPublica, accessed 10/7/16, ProPublica, accessed 10/7/16]

The First Presidential Debate Did Not Include A Gun Question 

No Question About Gun Safety During First Presidential Debate. During the first presidential debate, on September 26, neither candidate was specifically asked about gun policy, though the candidates brought it up themselves in two instances, when discussing stop and frisk and terrorism. While expressing support for stop and frisk, Trump claimed that the police tactic should be used “to take the guns away from these people that have them and they are bad people that shouldn't have them.” [The Washington Post, 9/26/16]

Across 12 GOP Primary Debates, Trump Spent Less Than Three Minutes Answering Questions About Guns. According to a Media Matters search of debate transcripts for the terms “gun,” “firearm,” “Second Amendment,” “2nd Amendment,” “background check,” “concealed,” and “assault weapon,” Trump was asked about gun-related issues in three Republican primary debates and his answers totaled 2 minutes and 55 seconds. [Media Matters, 9/23/16]

During Brief Responses On Guns In GOP Primary Debates, Trump Pushed Inaccurate Talking Points 

During The March 3 Fox News Debate, Trump Pushed The Myth That Armed Civilians Are An Effective Deterrent To Mass Public Shootings. Asked about his changing position on banning assault weapons, Trump spoke for 36 seconds and said of the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, “If we had guns, or if they had guns on the other side of the room, with the bullets going in the opposite direction, you would not have had 130 people killed”:

BRET BAIER: Mr. Trump, you were once a supporter of an assault weapons ban. So do you think there should be any restrictions on the Second Amendment.

DONALD TRUMP: No, I'm a big defender of the Second Amendment. And if you look at what's happened, whether it's in California, where you had the 14 people killed, whether it's in Paris -- which, by the way, has the toughest gun laws in the world and 130 people killed. Many, many people in the hospital gravely injured. They will be dying. Many people will be dying in addition. If we had guns, or if they had guns on the other side of the room, with the bullets going in the opposite direction, you would not have had 130 people killed. That I can tell you right now.


So I'm a very, very big supporter of the Second Amendment.

BAIER: But in 2000, you wrote in your book, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons.”

TRUMP: I don't support it anymore. I do not support the ban on assault. [Fox News Channel, Fox News Republican Debate, 3/3/16, The Washington Post, 3/3/16]

Trump Made A Similar Claim About Mass Shootings During The January 14 Fox Business Debate. Asked whether there should be any limitations on gun sales, Trump gave an answer lasting 1 minute and 4 seconds in which he incorrectly claimed that President Obama has issued executive orders on gun violence and it’s “not supposed to happen that way.” In fact, the president’s administration issued several executive actions to curb gun violence, which fell within the purview of the presidential powers:

MARIA BARTIROMO: Mr. Trump, are there any circumstances that you think we should be limiting gun sales of any kind in America?

DONALD TRUMP: No. I am a Second Amendment person. If we had guns in California on the other side where the bullets went in the different direction, you wouldn’t have 14 or 15 people dead right now. If even in Paris, if they had guns on the other side, going in the opposite direction, you wouldn’t have 130 people plus dead. So the answer is no and what Jeb said is absolutely correct. We have a huge mental health problem in this country. We’re closing hospitals, we’re closing wards, we’re closing so many because the states want to save money. We have to get back into looking at what’s causing it. The guns don’t pull the trigger. It’s the people that pull the trigger and we have to find out what is going on.


TRUMP: We have to protect our Second Amendment and you cannot do this and certainly what Barack Obama was doing with the executive order. He doesn’t want to get people together, the old-fashioned way, where you get Congress. You get the Congress, you get the Senate, you get together, you do legislation. He just writes out an executive order. Not supposed to happen that way. [Fox Business Channel, Fox Business Republican Debate1/14/16; The Washington Post, 1/14/16]

Trump Also Spoke Erroneously About “Gun-Free Zones” During CNBC’s October 28 Debate. Speaking for 1 minute and 15 seconds, Trump claimed that “gun-free zones” are “target practice for the sickos and for the mentally ill” and pushed the falsehood that mass shooters choose locations for their crimes based on whether guns can be carried there:

CARL QUINTANILLA: Mr. Trump, you’ve said you have a special permit to carry a gun in New York.


QUINTANILLA: After the Oregon mass shooting on October 1st, you said, “By the way, it was a gun-free zone. If you had a couple of teachers with guns, you would have been a hell of a lot better off.”

TRUMP: Or somebody else. Right.

QUINTANILLA: Would you feel more comfortable if your employees brought guns to work?

TRUMP: Yes, I might feel more comfortable. I would say that I would and I have a permit, which is very unusual in New York -- a permit to carry. And I do carry on occasion, sometimes a lot. But I like to be unpredictable so that people don’t know exactly…


QUINTANILLA: Are you carrying one now?



TRUMP: By the way, unlike our country where we’re totally predictable and the enemy, whether it’s ISIS or anybody else, they know exactly what we’re doing because we have the wrong leadership.


TRUMP: But I feel that the gun-free zones and, you know, when you say that, that’s target practice for the sickos and for the mentally ill. That’s target. They look around for gun-free zones. You know, we could give you another example -- the Marines, the Army, these wonderful six soldiers that were killed. Two of them were among the most highly decorated -- they weren’t allowed on a military base to have guns. And somebody walked in and shot them, killed them. If they had guns, he wouldn’t be around very long. I can tell you, there wouldn’t have been much damage. So, I think gun-free zones are a catastrophe. They’re a feeding frenzy for sick people.

QUINTANILLA: We called a few Trump resorts, a few Trump properties that — that do not allow guns with or without a permit. Would you change those policies?

TRUMP: I would change them. I would change them. [CNBC, CNBC Republican Debate10/28/15; Time, 10/28/15]