In a debate held in Charleston, South Carolina, a city that has witnessed a recent mass shooting, the GOP candidates were asked about how reduce gun violence if elected to the White House. Many responded instead by criticizing President Obama for announcing a set of executive actions last week that increases funding for background checks, investigations of criminal gun vendors, and mental health care.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went further than his rivals, floating the popular conspiracy theory that President Obama harbors plans to take away Americans’ firearms.
“I am convinced if this president could confiscate every gun, he would,” Rubio told the cheering audience. “I am convinced if he could get rid of the 2nd Amendment, he would.”
Fox Business moderator Neil Cavuto seemed taken aback, telling Rubio, “Under his presidency gun sales have more than doubled. That doesn’t sound like a White House unfriendly to gun owners.”
His voice increasing in both speed and volume, Rubio doubled down.
“I see how he works with the Attorney General, not to defend the 2nd Amendment but to figure out ways to undermine it. I have seen him appoint people to our courts not to defend the 2nd Amendment but figure out ways to undermine it,” Rubio said. “If there is an act of violence in america, his immediate answer before he knows the facts is gun control.”
Cavuto pressed him again, asking, “What fact can you point to, Senator, that the president would take away everyone’s guns? You don’t think that’s extreme?”
Rubio did not offer evidence of the theory, saying instead: “This president, every chance he has ever gotten, has tried to undermine the 2nd Amendment. When he meets with the Attorney General in the White House, it’s not, ‘How can we protect the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans?’ It’s, ‘Give me options that will make it harder for people to buy guns.'”
The conspiracy theory that President Obama wants to confiscate guns is years old and deeply entrenched. In a national poll last year, 52 percent of respondents said it was at least “somewhat likely” that “stricter gun laws will eventually lead to the federal government trying to take away guns from Americans who legally own them.”
Conservative blogs have enthusiastically promoted this idea, and thousands of people have acted on it by purchasing massive numbers of firearms over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency. Following his first election, the number of guns in the U.S. surpassed the number of people.
But rarely has a mainstream candidate for president engaged in promoting the theory that the White House harbors plans for gun confiscation.
The president has tried to refute these fears, saying in a town hall last week that it’s “imaginary fiction” pushed by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun activist groups.
“Yes, that is a conspiracy,” the president said. “I’m only going to be here for another year. When would I have started on this enterprise?”
After unsuccessfully pleading with Congress over the past few years — years marked by mass shootings at schools, movie theaters, and churches — to pass gun control reforms, President Obama issued an executive order in early January. The package of modest reforms include clarifying background check rules for online sales and gun shows, increasing the number of federal agents conducting background checks and investigating illegal gun trafficking, investing $500 million in mental health care, and developing new gun safety technology.