On Wednesday’s broadcast of “Morning Joe,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to the mat with show co-host Joe Scarborough on gun control, AR-15s, and the Supreme Court.
Throughout their exchange, Scarborough dishonestly tried to pretend that he knew more about the Supreme Court than Cruz, even though the senator has personally argued nine cases before them. As one might expect, Scarborough wasn’t quite up to the task of proving himself a distinguished constitutional scholar.
But before he made a fool out of himself by trying to outsmart Cruz on how the Supreme Court works, Scarborough parroted the now-omnipresent liberal talking point that AR-15s are uniquely destructive weapons [emphasis in bold mine throughout]:
It actually, the studies, even the Pentagon studies show that weapons like the AR-15 actually are designed to be more lethal, and there were actually -- and I’ve talked about the article a good bit. There’s an article in the Atlantic in 1981, where actually, they did an after-action report, and there was criticism that a gun much like the AR-15 wasn’t used in Vietnam because it was lighter, it was more lethal, and it was more of a killing machine than the guns that our soldiers were using in Vietnam. So, it is designed to kill more effectively, more efficiently.
Cruz countered Joe’s propaganda by correctly pointing out that many different semi-automatic hunting rifles exist that match the AR-15’s deadly potential:
Joe, the firing mechanisms -- the lethality of an AR-15 is indistinguishable from many deer rifles. When we were having this debate in 2013, Diane Feinstein proposed her so-called assault weapons ban. I put up a picture of one of the most common deer rifles in America, owned by millions of Americans. Under the statute she introduced, that was not a quote “assault rifle.” And then I held up a $5.99 little plastic handle. If you attached the plastic handle to it, suddenly it was a banned assault weapon.
Unable to respond to the substance of Cruz’s argument (or perhaps unable to comprehend it), Scarborough asked Cruz whether a deer rifle can really be as lethal as an AR-15 (it can):
SCARBOROUGH: So, your argument here is that deer rifles are just as lethal if somebody takes-
CRUZ: [interjecting] The firing mechanism is functionally the same.
SCARBOROUGH: -if somebody takes a deer rifle into a high school in Parkland, that that deer rifle is going to be as lethal as an AR-15?
CRUZ: So Joe, my argument is two-fold. Going after the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, it doesn’t work. It was actually the Bill Clinton Justice Department that concluded that the assault weapons ban had zero statistical impact.
Cruz’s last point is 100 percent correct. The study that he is referring to (see the 2004 updated version here) did conclude that the Clinton administration’s 1994 assault weapons ban had no discernible impact on falling rates of gun crime. As The Washington Times reported back before the study was officially released:
The federal assault-weapons ban, scheduled to expire in September, is not responsible for the nation’s steady decline in gun-related violence and its renewal likely will achieve little, according to an independent study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
“We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence,” said the unreleased NIJ report, written by Christopher Koper, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It is thus premature to make definitive assessments of the ban’s impact on gun violence. Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The report also noted that assault weapons were “rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.”
Understandably, Scarborough did not want this salient bit of information to penetrate his audience’s minds, so he quickly cut off Cruz and attempted to debate him on the Supreme Court and the meaning of the Second Amendment:
SCARBOROUGH: [cutting in] Okay, but -- you know better than anybody -- and I don’t want to -- I mean -- we don’t want to get into a sort of a moot court argument here, but you know better than anyone what the Second Amendment says and what it does-
CRUZ: I don’t know about better than anyone, but I know what the Second Amendment says.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, but you were involved with Heller, weren’t you?
SCARBOROUGH: You were involved with Heller.
CRUZ: I represented 31 states in Heller defending the Second Amendment.
SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. And so you know that at least where it stands right now, Scalia said that the Second Amendment means that people have a right to keep and bear arms in their homes, they have a right to have handguns in their home, they have a right to have shotguns in their home.
CRUZ: He didn’t just say their home by the way. The [word] “home” is not a qualifier.
Scarborough skated right past his lie about Americans only being able to keep and bear arms in their homes by trying to argue that the Supreme Court's decisions to not hear cases about assault weapon bans means that the bans are constitutional. Because Cruz is an actual experienced constitutional lawyer, he easily steamrolled Joe:
SCARBOROUGH: But, if you go from 2008 and the decision in 2010 all the way through now, obviously the Supreme Court has denied cer-, time and time again for limitations on assault-style weapons, for limitations on carry, for limitations on just about everything -- but what you and others successfully argued in Heller. So, having an AR-
CRUZ: [interjecting] Well, remember: Heller was about a semi-automatic handgun, which the Supreme Court said that the Second Amendment protected, and the District of Columbia could not ban.
SCARBOROUGH: But you know though that every American doesn’t have a Constitutional Second Amendment right to carry an AR-15. Yes or no?
CRUZ: I’m not gonna debate that. The courts, the courts will assess that it-
SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Wait, no, no, but the courts have assessed it. I just-
CRUZ: No they haven’t. That’s not what a denial of cert means. The court often on an area of Constitutional litigation will let the Federal Courts of Appeals -- they call it percolating, which is to let them debate back and forth, and a denial of cert has no precedential impact.
SCARBOROUGH: [talking over Cruz] Senator, I know that. It’s been perco- -- Senator, there are a lot of people, lawyers right now, that are rolling their eyes at what you’re saying because this percolation has been going on for ten years.
CRUZ: That’s not unusual.
SCARBOROUGH: And, and, and-
CRUZ: And remember, my career was litigating before the Supreme Court. So actually, this is not an uncommon thing. I recognize that’s not what you do, but the court denies cert-
Scarborough didn’t take Cruz’s helpful hint to stop lying to him, but instead interrupted him and tried to turn the senator's corrections around by accusing Cruz of being condescending:
SCARBOROUGH: You rec-, you rec-, you -- wait. I don’t need you to lecture me on what the Supreme Court does and what it doesn’t do. When the -- if the Supreme Court denies cert time and time again, and they have since 2010, and they’ve allowed Connecticut’s laws to stand in place that actually ban assault-style weapons. Right now, the court is sitting back and they are allowing that to remain in place and allowing that -- that is constitutional right now. There is not a constitutional right, and you know it. And you can talk down to me all you want to, but you know there is not a constitutional-
CRUZ: Joe, who’s talking bad to whom? You say lawyers are rolling their eyes at me. I mean, let’s just be clear here.
SCARBOROUGH: Because you said: This is what you do, I understand it’s not what you do Joe. But I do understand this. Even a dumb country lawyer like me understands that an AR-15 today is not recognized as a constitutional right of Americans under the Second Amendment. Is that right or wrong?
Cruz proceeded to demolish Scarborough’s ridiculous premise that the Supreme Court needs to individually evaluate every semi-automatic rifle model for whether or not it is constitutional:
Actually, under the test that the Supreme Court laid out in Heller, whether an instrument of defense is in “common and popular usage,” the AR-15 is one of the most popular and common weapons in the United States. Under the test of Heller, it is clearly protected.
This continued on for several more minutes, but none of Cruz’s arguments ultimately seemed to penetrate Scarborough’s haze of misinformation.
Believe it or not, Joe Scarborough actually used to have conservative opinions on gun control. As a member of Congress, he voted for repealing the Clinton assault weapon ban and against mandating gun show background checks:
The Cruz-Scarborough debate discussed above can be found here.