Trigger Warning

GOP presidential candidates debate gun conspiracy theories at sixth debate.

GOP Presidential Candidates Debate Gun Conspiracy Theories At Sixth Debate

The GOP presidential candidates sparred over guns during Thursday’s debate in South Carolina, a state that’s no stranger to the devastating impacts of gun violence. Charleston, the site of the debate, suffered one of the most tragic acts of gun violence last year when a white supremacist killed nine parishioners at the historic Emanuel AME Church. But instead of addressing commonsense strategies for curbing America’s gun violence problem, the GOP candidates accused President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of–as Marco Rubio put it–plotting to “confiscate every gun in America.”

Rubio was the first to bring up the subject of gun violence saying, “We cannot afford to have a president of the United States that supports gun control.” Donald Trump agreed with Rubio. When asked whether there are any circumstances under which he would support limiting gun sales, the GOP frontrunner responded, “No. I am a Second Amendment person.”

The candidates’ reluctance to consider policies to reduce gun crime has contributed to an epidemic of gun deaths. Every 15 minutes someone in America dies from a gun and nearly 33,000 lives are taken by guns each year.

Commonsense gun laws like background checks have effectively prevented more than 2 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers. And, states with weaker gun laws see higher rates of gun violence.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush rejected such proposals, arguing, “We don’t need to add new rules, we need to make sure the FBI does its job.” Bush’s comments ignore the fact that President Obama’s executive actions are designed to help make sure the FBI can do its job. Under the executive actions, the FBI will allocate significant new resources to help run the background checks system, which will help speed up the process and ensure that fewer guns are allowed to be purchased because of a backlog in the background check system. Additionally, the package clarifies background check rules for gun sales online and at gun shows, invests $500 million in mental health care, and invests in developing new gun safety technology.

Bush also argued that the background check system failed in the case of the Charleston shooting at Emanuel AME. “In this particular case, the FBI made a mistake. The law itself requires a background check, but they didn’t fulfill their part of the bargain within the time they were supposed to do…that person should not have gotten a gun, should not—would not have passed a background check,” he said. But Dylan Roof, the Charleston shooter, was able to purchase a gun because of a loophole that allows federally licensed gun dealers to complete a purchase if the FBI does not determine that it violates federal rules within three days. The Charleston loophole makes it easier for dangerous people to circumvent the current system, yet GOP lawmakers have refused to support legislation to close this gap.

Donald Trump pushed the “good guy with a gun” theory, citing the tragedy in San Bernardino. “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,” he said. Rubio agreed, stating, “And the last line standing between them and our families might be us and a gun.” As much as GOP candidates believe that armed civilians are the solutions to mass shootings, the facts don’t support this theory. According to the FBI, only 3 percent of mass shootings from 2000 to 2013 were stopped by armed civilians. Clearly, we need more than armed civilians to prevent mass shootings, especially since there were more than 350 mass shootings in 2015 alone.

Bush also misrepresented his gun record as governor. After touting his A+ grade with the NRA, Bush said, “we also have a reduction in gun violence because in Florida, if you commit a crime with a gun, you’re going away.” But in reality, Bush’s record led to more violence in Florida. While governor, Bush signed Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, the first of its kind. In the 2 years after the law was enacted, the number of gun-related homicides in Florida increased by more than 200 cases. Twenty-four other states have followed Bush’s lead and enacted similar Stand Your Ground laws, which have resulted in an estimated 8 percent increase in homicides in adopting states—or an additional 600 homicides in the nation per year. Additionally, because of Stand Your Ground, many people do not go to jail for gun violence. In fact, defendants who invoked Stand Your Ground were 24 percent more likely to win a case if they killed a black person than if they killed a white person.

BOTTOM LINE: At Thursday’s GOP debate the candidates rehashed long-debunked conspiracy theories about confiscating people’s guns rather than debating commonsense policies to address gun violence in America. The only way to begin to address the epidemic is with a substantive policy debate. And after a year with more mass shootings than calendar days, we cannot afford to have presidential candidates that do not take the issue seriously.

Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.