WASHINGTON — Republican presidential contender Ben Carson says he would have sacrificed his life to help stop last week’s deadly attack in Oregon. But he’s joined the rest of the GOP’s 2016 class in refusing to support new measures to stop mass shootings.
In a new book, the retired neurosurgeon also insists that Americans must have access to assault rifles and “armor-penetrating ammunition” to defend themselves from “an overly aggressive government.”
The comments provide fresh evidence of the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats on gun violence and the potential for the issue to loom large in the 2016 presidential contest.
Leading Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton rolled out several proposals to address gun violence this week, including using executive action as president to expand background check requirements. Clinton pledged to require anyone “attempting to sell a significant number of guns” to be considered a firearms dealer, and therefore subject to a federal license.
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Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to politicize last week’s shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College, which left 10 dead, including the shooter. Carson on Tuesday said he probably would not have visited the Oregon community if he were president, because that would inject politics into a tragedy.
But speaking on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” he said he would have taken action to stop the shooter if he had been at the scene.
“I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson said. “I would say ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me but he can’t get us all.”
In his book released Tuesday, Carson, who was raised in inner-city Detroit, says he previously supported stricter gun laws “until he fully recognized the intent of the Second Amendment, which is to protect the freedom of the people from an overly aggressive government.”
He writes in “A More Perfect Union” that calls for greater gun control after repeated mass shootings, especially those involving children, may seem noble, “but is just the kind of thing that our founders feared.” And he defended the right to own powerful weaponry such as assault rifles and armor-penetrating ammunition.
Carson wrote that the “people have a right to any type of weapon that they can legally obtain in order to protect themselves. They would be at a great disadvantage if they were attacked by an overly aggressive government and all they had to defend themselves with were minor firearms.”
None of the Republican candidates is publicly supporting expanded background checks, despite polls that suggest overwhelming majorities of voters in both parties would back such a change. The National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby on Capitol Hill and around the country, opposes an expansion of background checks or any new gun-control measures.
Carson and some of his Republican rivals have called for measures that would prevent people who are seriously mentally ill from owning guns, but few have offered specific plans.
“They’ve made the gamble that they don’t think they need to offer much by way of substantive proposals,” said Pia Carusone, executive director for Americans For Responsible Solutions, a group led by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, a victim of gun violence herself.
“We’re a country clearly suffering from crisis of gun violence,” Carusone said. “But we’re seeing an acceptance of the status quo.”