Speaking at a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina on Tuesday, Republican nominee Donald Trump appeared to insinuate that Second Amendment advocates should shoot Hillary Clinton. "Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks," Trump told the crowd, adding, "Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don't know." While Twitter burst with aghast pundits and commentators wondering how Trump managed to go beyond the pale (yet again), there may be a larger concern: could Trump be arrested for his seeming attempt to incite violence against Clinton?
Unsurprisingly, Trump's campaign has been very quick to dismiss interpretations of his remarks as his advocating an assassination attempt against his Democratic opponent. In a statement deliciously titled "Trump Campaign Statement On The Dishonest Media," senior communications adviser Jason Miller said: "Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won't be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump."
However, Clinton's campaign released a response stating it clearly understood the Trump comment to be "dangerous." Campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement: "A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way." Is it possible that Trump could face legal repercussions for his remarks?
Former Central Intelligence Agency director — and Republican — Gen. Michael Hayden spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper about Trump's remarks:
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, in fact, called on the Secret Service to investigate Trump, tweeting:
Also, the Super PAC Democratic Coalition Against Trump already contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to "demand that Trump face felony charges under 18 U.S.C. § 879 for the gun remark," according to a tweet from Newsweek's Nina Burleigh.
What exactly is 18 U.S.C. § 879? In short, it's a special case of felony charge for threatening violence against a former or current president or vice president, anyone in his/her immediate families, or "major candidate for the office of President or Vice President, or a member of the immediate family of such candidate," as it states. Hillary Clinton fits under multiple categories as outlined by the FBI codes.
Realistically, it's unlikely that Trump would be charged or even arrested for his remarks, but it's not entirely out of the question. Even if Clinton weren't running for president (or a former first lady) but a regular civilian, Trump might still be liable for arrest. There's a line between protected free speech and violent threats, and Trump's comments are questionable. According to the 1969 Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, "Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
In terms of whether Trump's comments constitute a felony crime or grounds for felony arrest, the issue is whether his remarks were "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." Now, Trump's campaign has — and will — argue his comments are being distorted and that they were really all about praising people who advocate for 2nd Amendment rights. To me, it seems like a clear incitement of violence — whether someone in the audience would act or be motivated by Trump's suggestion remains to (hopefully, not) be seen.
Image: Bustle/Dawn Foster