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Dr. Larry Arnn On The President’s CNN Gun Symposium

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HH: I am pleased to bring the first live Hillsdale Dialogue of 2016 to you with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. I can’t say the first Hillsdale Dialogue of the year, because we replayed our January 1 marathon on the first day of the year. But Dr. Arnn is back live. Dr. Arnn, you’re in Michigan, I’m in Washington. I think I got the better deal there.

LA: Yeah, I just got back from Hawaii, Hugh, where I saw Obama.

HH: Oh.

LA: That was a traumatic experience. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Did he stop and ask you some pointers that he could use last night in the forum on the Constitution about which we’re going to speak right now?

LA: Well, he wouldn’t have stopped, and he wouldn’t have listened, and it wouldn’t have helped. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) But you know, they billed it, and I’ll be on Anderson Cooper tonight. They build it as a forum on gun control, but it was really a forum on the Constitution, and they didn’t know that. But that’s what it was.

LA: Yeah, well, you did a good job. I watched that clip of you that’s on your website. And you were in rare form.

HH: Well, it was a good panel. We’ll get to that. But let’s start with the tragic news of the day, because it leads into it. Earlier today, a jihadi, an ISIS member, lone wolf, whatever you want to call it, known wolf in Philadelphia, attempted to assassinate a Philadelphia police officer. Here’s what the police chief said an hour ago, cut number 7.

Reporter: What specifically did this man, Mr. Archer, say? Did he also then say about what he had done and why he had done it?

Mayor: Captain?

Captain: We had the suspect upstairs. The homicide unit talked to him. Right away, he didn’t have anything to say. But then, he stated that he pledges his allegiance to Islamic State. He follows Allah, and that is the reason he was called upon to do this.

Reporter: For what reason? What was his…

Captain: That he just kept on echoing those sentiments. And he wouldn’t give us anything more than that.

Reporter: The FBI said his living quarters, they’re there at this hour, where specifically did he travel? To Cairo several years ago? And what about possible terrorist and terrorism at his home?

Captain: Right, I mean, I can’t comment on that. The only thing I can tell you is that the FBI in conjunction with homicide detectives and Homeland Security, they’re executing search warrants.

HH: Now Dr. Larry Arnn, you and I talked a few weeks ago after the San Bernardino massacre, that the answer here might be to return to that militia concept.

LA: I believe that.

HH: And the President seemed wholly unaware of that last night.

LA: Yeah, well, it was an interesting performance in many ways, because you know, the most immediate provocation of this thing that happened today hadn’t happened by then, was the thing in San Bernardino. And that’s some people who planned it and had help from abroad, and training, at least, and went and shot a bunch of innocent people. And background checks wouldn’t work for that, didn’t have anything to do with that. And then the argument is plausible that if there had been somebody there with a concealed carry permit and a weapon, that they might have stopped it sooner.

HH: It is very plausible, and he confronted Taya, the widow of the American Sniper. He confronted a rape victim. He confronted Paul Babeau, the sheriff in Arizona. Actually, it was the toughest series of questions he’s had, and he was incoherent, actually, in his responses. But the key question, the very first one, came from Anderson Cooper. I’d like you to comment on it, Dr. Arnn, cut number four:

AC: And is it fair to call it a conspiracy?

BO: Well, yeah…

AC: I mean, there’s a lot of people who really believe this deeply, that they just don’t, they just don’t trust you.

BO: No, no, I’m sorry, Cooper, yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying? Are the, are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody’s guns away so that we can impose martial law is a conspiracy?

AC: Not everybody, but there’s certainly a lot of people…

BO: Yes, that is a conspiracy. I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial? Except on some websites around the country?

AC: No, there are certainly a lot of people who just have a fundamental distrust that you do not want to get, go further and further and further down this road.

BO: Well, look, I mean, I’m only going to be here for another year. I don’t know, when would I have started on this enterprise, right?

HH: You see, and Larry, that was the end of it. He began the show as well, Anderson Cooper did, with a question, people just don’t trust you. He ended it with it, and the President doesn’t seem to understand that. People don’t trust him.

LA: Well, I told you that I saw Obama, and I was in Hawaii, and people kept calling out to him, we love you, Barack, thank you, Barack, and then most of the people in the crowd were silent. And I don’t know what they were thinking. I only know what I was thinking, and I didn’t say anything. So maybe he doesn’t meet much of that. I don’t know. But you know, about the mistrust issue, there’s, aren’t there two things going on here? One is a Constitutional issue grounded in human nature. The Constitution, in the 2nd Amendment, recognizes our right to protect ourselves and participate in the protection of our country. That’s what the 2nd Amendment is about. There’s a second Constitutional issue, and that is how do laws get made in America? And the whole idea behind the Constitution, and it is the central idea, is that the laws are never made by one person, not even one branch. And the public policy issues, this is a point that you made in the debate, that’s a complicated issue about how do you regulate the use of guns? And there isn’t any considerable body of people that I know of in America who don’t think people should not be allowed to carry personal nuclear weapons. So there’s got to be some restriction on some kinds of firearms. But the public policy issue, then, that involves dealing with details and working out how people can have the maximum right to defend themselves, and the maximum safety of the community, understanding that there is a fundamental right to defend yourself. That’s what you work out in a legislature. It’s a deliberative process. And what the President’s interviews were shot through with last night, in this interview, was not just incoherence, which there was often, he didn’t answer most of the questions that were put to him. But in addition, he proclaims that there is a consensus on a thing, or he proclaims that there is a deadlock on a thing, and then he proceeds to do it by himself. And neither of those constitute authorities for the president of the United States.

HH: Exactly. I’m talking with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. I’m actually at the Hillsdale College broadcast studio today, the Boyle Radio Studio at the Kirby Center in Washington, D.C. He is in Michigan at Hillsdale College, and we’re talking about last night’s performance. Ordinarily, we would be talking about Winston Churchill at this period of time, or some other long ago great figure. But the President put the Constitution front and center before Dr. Arnn and his team talked first to the Republican Study Group, and then later to the entire Republican delegation assembled about first principles. So the President set this up very nicely. Never did people look at me more blankly, Dr. Arnn, last night on the panel, than when I brought up, I tried to do a little Con Law, and I said I’m not a prosecutor and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn, and I was never a senior staffer like Mr. Carney or Mr. Jones, but I was a laboring lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office, and we concerned ourselves with Article I and Article II and Article III. And every American citizen is a member of a republic, and they are entitled to know what is legal and illegal, and they are entitled to have the details of that. Otherwise, the law is void for vagueness. I had blank stares, Larry Arnn. No one had a clue what I was talking about.

LA: Yeah, well, in the Federalist Papers, Madison writes that is the laws are voluminous and changeable, then you, it doesn’t make any difference, he says, if they’re passed by the correct process. They’re still not really conforming to the rule of law.

HH: Huh.

LA: And so we’ve got the wrong process here, too, to start with, because this, I mean, wowie, let’s say that Barack Obama means everything he says about respecting the 2nd Amendment. Any executive acting on his own authority, and the principle of an executive acting on his own authority in legislative matters is dangerous over time. But then, second, what are the standards here? You know, what is it to sell a gun, or to be a gun dealer? Well, an administrative agency is going to start making that up, he said, during the discussion.

HH: Yes, he did. And that is chilling. And I said every American’s rights were chilled, because now they do not know whether or not on acting on their own firearms, which they legally bought and legally own, and intend to distribute them, whether to a neighbor or a nephew or a friend, or to sell them, because they are in dire financial need, they are going to be breaking the law.

LA: That’s right.

HH: That’s a terrible situation to be in.

LA: That’s right, and that’s, you know, there are actually more guns in the United States of America than there are people by a little bit.

HH: Yup.

LA: Our gun ownership is massive compared to any country in the world. Now compared to certain few European countries, are murder rates are higher, a lot higher. But if you look at Cuba, Venezuela, Turkey, I can go on, they all have much higher murder rates than we do, and our gun ownership rates are much higher than theirs. And so this equating gun ownership with more homicides, it just doesn’t break down when you look at the, it just breaks down when you look at the world’s statistics.

HH: It doesn’t. A lot of things don’t make sense about this debate. But the Constitution makes sense, and we’ll continue to talk about it on this, the first live Hillsdale Dialogue of 2016, all of them available at All of the offerings of Hillsdale College available at Stay tuned, I’ll be back with Dr. Arnn.

— – – —

HH: Now I want to play some clips for Dr. Arnn to comment on. This is President Obama speaking about the sovereign state of Indiana as the reason for gun violence in Chicago, cut number one.

AC: They’re not buying them at gun shows. Only 1% of criminals are buying them at gun shows.

BO: No, but this is what happens. Let’s go back to the city of Chicago that has strong gun control laws, and often times, the NRA will point to that as an example and say see, these things don’t work. Well, the problem is that about 30-40% of those guns are coming from Indiana across the border where there are much laxer laws. And so folks will go to a gun show and purchase a whole bunch of firearms, put them in a van, drive up into Mike Pflaeger’s neighborhood on the south side of Chicago where his parish is, open up the trunk, and those things are for sale. Now technically, you could say those folks bought them illegally. But it was facilitated by the fact that what used to be a small exception that said collectors and hobbyists don’t need to go through a background check has become this massive industry where people who are doing business are in fact saying that they’re not in the business of selling guns, but are. And all we’re saying here is that we want to put everybody on notice.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, this is a beautiful piece of sophistry, which might be studied just for that. But I began the aftershow by asking the prosecutor who was present, a wonderful person named Sonny, a liberal, are you aware of this van case, because I am not. And she said no, but I believe it occurred, and perhaps there is a van case out there. But it’s a, I believe, a mythological van. And when the President says 30-40%, he gives away the fact that when you’ve got a 33% variable in your estimate, you really don’t have an estimate. He also went on to talk about the fact that technically, you can say that’s already illegal, which in fact, it is. In other words, an imagined incident of unknown province used to illustrate a point about which it is admitted it is not relevant. That was the level of discourse last night.

LA: Yeah, and see let’s go back to the Congress for a minute. When the Congress works right, which it sometimes does, and one hopes it’s on the verge of starting to work better, then somebody would stand up and make all those claims that Barack Obama made on the TV show. And remember, the context, he’s already done this thing, right? And now, he’s entering a debate. Somebody on the Congress floor who said things like that, those things would be disputed.

HH: Yes.

LA: And there would be an argument. And then some truth would emerge from it. And then eventually, something would get done. But that’s what we call the process of deliberation. But what he’s doing is coming out, first of all, he’s not talking to people who are empowered by the American people to make any laws, a point about, you made about yourself several times. He’s talking to some people who are already under the jurisdiction of acts he’s already taken, and he’s making arguments that don’t look like they make a blind bit of sense.

HH: And he disputes that last thing that you just said. In fact, I have exactly his dispute for that, cut number two, for Dr. Arnn, please.

BO: And the notion that you should have to do that, but there are a whole bunch of folks who are less responsible than you who don’t have to do it doesn’t make much sense. So why we should resist this, keep in mind, historically, the NRA was in favor of background checks. Historically, many in the Republican Party were in favor of background checks. And what’s changed is not that my proposals are particularly radical. What’s changed is we’ve suddenly created an atmosphere in which I put out a proposal like background checks, or after Sandy Hook, we’re calling on Congress, along with people like Gabby Giffords, who herself was a victim of gun violence, we put out a proposal that is common sense, modest, does not claim to solve every problem, is respectful of the 2nd Amendment. And the way it is described is that we’re trying to take away everybody’s guns. And part of the reason I welcomed this opportunity by CNN to have a good discussion/debate about it is because our position is consistently mischaracterized. And, by the way…

HH: Consistently mischaracterized, Larry Arnn, what do you think of that?

LA: Well, I return to an earlier argument. You can trust somebody if they’re scrupulously abiding under the restraints of the powers they hold. But you know, you can choose your own doctor, and you can still buy guns.

HH: (laughing)

LA: You know, those…

HH: I forgot. I wish I had used that last night. I’ll play a line next segment about, that I did something similar, but I wish I had used that last night.

LA: It’s very, you know, his case here has, you can put them together in a variety of ways, because he makes them in a variety of ways. But look at it this way. There have been many episodes of gun violence. Some of them might have been prevented by more background checks. Many of them would not. If we do what I’m doing, which is effectively change a law that touches on an explicit Constitutional provision, it will make it “a little harder” for people to get guns. And you know, my belief, very much, is there’s looming, I just read a really great article today, I read one every week now, at least, about why people are rallying to ISIS. And young people who are disaffected and who see great glory and esteem and honor and a mighty cause to serve are going there. And we don’t have much argument to make against them, because we don’t believe in ourselves much anymore. We’re failing to inspire the next generation. But you know, you’re going to have to learn to do that, or you’re going to lose this war. And the second thing is we’re going to have to fight those people. And those people are armed by other people who are little-trained, they’re just inflamed with ideology, and they can show up anywhere. You’ve got 300 million guns or something like that in the United States of America. Why couldn’t they be used in this? And you would, of course, put sensible controls, to quote the President, in place so that people who were carrying guns, concealed weapons and things like that, would pass some test, and maybe a background check. But we would believe Obama better, first of all, if he’d been a little more truthful about Obamacare and other things. And second of all, if he actually were manifestly friendly to the use of the American culture and tradition and heritage and principles for the defense of the country.

HH: If he was manifestly friendly, if he were a little more friendly to the American history and ethic. That is in fact, gosh, I wish I’d said that last night. That’s why I talked to Dr. Arnn a day too late. Don’t go anywhere, America. I’ll be right back with Larry Arnn.

— – – — –

HH: We are talking about last night’s town hall forum on CNN when the President answered perhaps the toughest series of questions, the toughest, at least, six or seven questions that I have seen posed of him in sequence, a couple of them by Anderson Cooper, five by the audience, that I’ve seen him asked in seven years, itself, Larry Arnn, indicative of the insularity into which he has allowed himself to fall, which is not good for a president.

LA: No, he’s, he and Bill Clinton have in common the regular use of the imperative mood. You know, did you hear that? I’m putting people on notice, you know?

HH: Yes. Yeah.

LA: And you know, Clinton liked to wag his finger. And that’s not the proper attitude of an executive in a representative government. You know, I have a New Year’s party every year, and I always try to send out some stupid sounding invitation.

HH: I’m going to get invited to that one of these years.

LA: You’re invited, Hugh. You’re on the list as of this minute. And you know, it’s a big party, and it’s fun. And this year, I told about that thing. And here’s what it was like. We were in a snack bar, and there was a fancy restaurant nearby, where I have eaten myself, and it’s Obama’s favorite, and of course, he grew up around there. And so we’re going to go out now, and there’s a bunch of security people. The Secret Service guys were all standing calmly wearing Hawaiian shirts. They didn’t look aggressive, but the other security guys who were waving hand-held walkie-talkies, right? And they were all in a pant, you know, and get back, get back, you know? And goodness, we’re citizens.

HH: We’re citizens.

LA: I’ve witnessed the same thing coming out of a restaurant years ago when Hillary Clinton was first lady. And both times, the atmosphere of it was it’s like royalty walking by.

HH: Now Teddy Roosevelt would throw open the doors of the White House on New Year’s Day.

LA: I just hate that stuff.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And you know, Bill Sammon of Fox News tells a story once, he was in, where, somewhere in Latin America, and he was walking, and there was a crowd around them, and the Secret Service guys were nearby, and the crowd was kind of hostile, and they closed the door between him and his Secret Service guys, and they were cut off. And he could see that the Secret Service guys were beginning to be mobbed. And he opened the door, and went back and reached into the crowd and grabbed two of them, and dragged them after him, you see? So in other words, he was acting like he was a member of the team.

HH: Yeah. Yeah, that’s very interesting.

LA: And that’s the manners, right? You know, when George Washington was elected president, and he was surely the most regal American who ever lived, the most kinglike American who ever lived, and so they’re trying to figure out what are we going to call the president. And John Adams proposed his majesty. And Washington repudiated that…

HH: Immediately.

LA: And after that, for months, Alexander Hamilton called John Adams his rotundity.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Now here’s President Obama from last night, which I think you’ll, this is a classic, cut number three:

BO: The majority of people in this country are a lot more sensible than what you see in Washington. And the reason that Washington doesn’t work well in part is because the loudest, shrillest voices, the least compromising, the most powerful, or those with the most money, have the most influence. And the way Washington changes is when people vote. And the way we break the deadlock on this issue is when Congress does not have just a stranglehold on this debate, or excuse me, the NRA does not have a stranglehold on Congress in this debate, but it is balanced by a whole bunch of folks, gun owners, law enforcement…

HH: All right, Larry, we have one minute to the break. What do you make of that, the majority of folks agree with me, and it’s the NRA blocking everyone?

LA: Yeah, well, that’s silly, right?

HH: Right. Right.

LA: It, I mean, first of all, the vast majority of folks are themselves gun owners. And the vast majority of folks think about that as a way, who own guns, think about that as a way to defend themselves. And the vast majority of folks, by every measurement you can find, and this is always north of 65%, think the government doesn’t represent them, and express some fear about it.

HH: That’s what I wish, again, something I wish I had said. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn, one more segment, as we review President Obama’s symposium on the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment last night. Don’t go anywhere, it’s the Hillsdale Dialogue.

— – – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, in the aftermath of the President’s town hall with CNN, I went over to CNN with Jake Tapper, and S.E. Cupp and Van Jones and Jay Carney, Jay Carney, of course, the President’s press secretary for many years, and Gloria Borger, and Michael Smerconish, and Harry Hauck and Sunny, and we had a great, old conversation moderated by Jake Tapper, which began this way, cut number five:

JT: Hugh Hewitt, you’re a skeptic of President Obama, a skeptic of his proposals. What did you think? Did he convince anyone in that room, if he didn’t convince you?

HH: No, I’m very disappointed. It was a terrific setting. Anderson Cooper opened with a very tough set of questions about why do you talk about confiscation, why do you talk about Australia, what’s your trust deficit. Anderson closed with tough questions. He got tough questions from Taya. He got tough questions from Kimberly, from Sheriff Paul. He answered none of them. It’s not a conspiracy to worry about this president’s abuse of power. He put out an unconstitutional executive order about immigration. He unconstitutionally limited Hobby Lobby’s rights. It is not a conspiracy to be concerned about where he is going. And to mock, minimize and to denigrate the people whom you ought to be serving is deeply disappointed.

HH: And at that point, Dr. Arnn, I wish I had said, and you can keep your doctor, by the way, Jake, if you’d forgotten that.

LA: (laughing) That’s it. Yeah, it’s not, you know, these things, Obama, you know, he’s changed. He said that you can trust him about this. He said that he set out to transform the country.

HH: Yes.

LA: He’s doing a very large amount of it…

HH: Yes.

LA: …through actions that the executive branch, through the longest Constitutional history of all, has never taken on its own. And that, and you know, he, how many times has he lost 9-0 in the Supreme Court?

HH: Yup.

LA: When he does things that step on the legislative branch authorities…

HH: I would have brought up USC V. Hosanna Tabor last night, which was a 9-0. That means he lost Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s attempt to tell a church school who they can and cannot fire based on religious doctrine. He’s lost a 9-0 ruling on the EPA regulations. It’s not like people don’t have a predicate for not trusting him.

LA: Yeah, that’s right. And it would be good, like he did, he’s a very able man, and according to his lights, I expect that he’s a sincere man intending well according to his lights. He would do well to take that rhetoric about how he admires the 2nd Amendment, and Michelle said if I lived out here in the country, I’d want to have a gun in the house. If he would apply that across the board, and then truthfully say if you want, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, he needs to mean that when he said it.

HH: And he needs to amend what he said, and admit that he said it. One more cut, because Jay Carney was there as the representative of the President, and S.E. Cupp, the very able commentator and I, got into it with him in the cut I would like your comment on, cut number six:

Borger: Because Newtown bothers everybody.

Carney: I was there for five and a half years. I was in on a lot of policy discussions…

Borger: Right.

Carney: …and a lot of issues, including issues around gun control and crime and violence, and nothing that the conspiracy theorists believe about what President Obama’s true intentions are was ever uttered in any room by anyone.

HH: Jay, can I ask you a question? When Anderson Cooper asked a very important question, why do you keep bringing up Australia where guns were confiscated, he can’t answer a direct question. You must, did it drive you crazy that he cannot answer a question?

JC: But Hugh, what he hasn’t done is propose anything like what was done in Australia. He can say he admires what they did in response to mass shootings.

HH: But why does…

JC: But he hasn’t proposed, as president of the United States, anything like that.

HH: I’ll let…

JC: And he’s never talked about it in policy debates inside the White House.

Cupp: But he did call for an assault weapons ban in 2013. That legislation…

JC: And the renewal of one that was proposed and supportive by a Republican president.

SEC: Just wait. Just wait. That legislation went to the floor. Dianne Feinstein, it was not passed. But if he’s capable of and interested in banning an entire category not just of rifles, but also handguns that fell into that ban, why is it a conspiracy that I think he wants to ban some guns? I’m simply taking him at his word.

Jones: But for me, here’s the thing. I never know when I’m trying to get a bill passed what the objective of this person is or that person is. I worked with Newt Gingrich on criminal justice legislation. We don’t see eye to eye on…

HH: Yeah, and that was Van Jones coming in. And so Dr. Arnn, the point comes when you’ve shattered your trust, you could have Jay Carney tell me for a hundred times that it never comes up in the White House, and I don’t believe him.

LA: Yeah, it’s one of those very easy things to say, isn’t it?

HH: Yes.

LA: And the other thing is if that’s your, you know, if your thing is I know the president, and he never says that, well, but what about all those other things he has never said and then upped and done? And so I’m, you know, he set this thing up right in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting.

HH: He agreed to it. CNN proposed it, he agreed to it, yes.

LA: Yeah, that’s right. And he, and for a couple of days, it looked like the San Bernardino, it didn’t look like, it wasn’t known what the San Bernardino shooting was. And it took him some time to come around to the idea that this was a terror attack. And I repeat my point. The murder rate is falling in the United States of America. And terror attacks are on the rise. Why is that not the center of the debate?

HH: That came up at the forum last night. And he does not want to acknowledge that, because it, I believe this is about a Potemkin presidential library that is presently empty except of broken promises and failed schemes, and a disastrous Middle East, and that there is a, that the light went on, someone noted they turned the calendar and we’ve got a year and a week, we’d better come up with something, at least some B roll to play, Dr. Arnn. Am I too cynical?

LA: Well, I don’t know. I mean, you might be naïve, actually.

HH: (laughing) I am definitely naïve.

LA: I think he thinks that he is and has been triumphant, and he has laid the ground for exactly the transformation he set out to make.

HH: Interesting.

LA: I think he thinks that. I don’t think that he’s down. I don’t think that he’s cowering. I think he thinks he’s done what he set out to do, and now it’s going to unfold in the future beautifully.

HH: Wow. We will return to that sobering thought at the next Hillsdale Dialogue. Dr. Larry Arnn, it is always a pleasure, thank you for allowing me to use the Kirby Center’s Boyle Radio Studio of Hillsdale College., America, go and sign up. You need Imprimis, you need these offerings, you need the Hugh for Hillsdale Dialogues. I’ll be back. Thank you, Dr. Larry Arnn.

End of interview.


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