Kavanaugh Defends Opinion That Assault Weapons Are “Common” and Can’t Be Banned

Watch his testy exchange with a Democratic senator on his controversial position.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

In 2011, Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissent in a case in which he argued that the District of Columbia’s ban on assault weapons was unconstitutional. “A ban on a class of arms is not an ‘incidental’ regulation,” he wrote. “It is equivalent to a ban on a category of speech.” No other court has agreed with Kavanaugh on this front, and other appeals courts have upheld reasonable limits on gun ownership.

On Wednesday, the second day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to join the Supreme Court, this dissent was front and center as he faced sharp questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) grilled the nominee about his view that assault weapons couldn’t be regulated, asking what evidence he used to justify his position that assault weapons were “in common use” and thus their ownership was protected by the Second Amendment. 

Kavanaugh dodged the question, saying, “Machine guns can be prohibited.” Feinstein responded, “I think we’re on totally different wavelengths.” She noted that machine guns had long been prohibited and went on to press him on assault weapons, highlighting their use in multiple school shootings in recent years. Feinstein wanted to know what evidence or research he’d drawn on to support his assertion that assault weapons were “common.” Kavanaugh insisted that “millions and millions” of assault weapons were owned in the United States, to which Feinstein replied, “You’re saying numbers define common use?” She expressed skepticism that an assault weapon was something lots of ordinary Americans toted around on a daily basis.

Kavanaugh claimed sympathy to the problem of gun violence, noting that he’d grown up around Washington, DC, which was once known as the murder capital of America. None of that changed his views on gun regulation, though. “This is all about precedent for me,” Kavanaugh told Feinstein, citing the Supreme Court’s 2008 majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which overturned the District’s ban on handguns and firmly established an individual right to own guns. Watch the entire exchange here:

Kavanaugh kicked off the second day of his confirmation hearing amid loud and angry protests from the public, whose noisy objection to his nomination drowned out most of his answers from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman. But most of the protesters had been removed from the room by the time Feinstein launched into her interrogation.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate