Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson said "guns can be made full auto by removing the firing pins."
One of the things that particularly irks gun rights advocates is when politicians demonstrate an ignorance of how firearms actually work. After all, how can politicians be expected to prudently propose and vote on legislation affecting the manufacture, sale, and ownership of guns if they lack a basic understanding of the functionality of such weapons?
This sentiment was expressed in social media circles in September 2016 with the posting of an image of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson along with text indicating that he had once said “guns can be made full auto by removing the firing pins”:
The claim that a legal semi-automatic weapon can be converted to an illegal fully automatic one simply through the removal of “a pin” is the bane of many gun aficionados, so it would be particularly irksome if a presidential candidate had actually expressed such a notion (and even more so if he referenced removing the “firing pin,” which would generally render the weapon inoperative).
As is common with such political images, this one provided no source or context for Johnson’s alleged statement. We found no documentation that he ever said any such thing, and the claim that he did likely originated with a misconstrual of a remark made by his running mate, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld.
In an August 2016 interview, Weld was asked whether ownership of AR-15s (a semi-automatic weapon commonly termed an “assault rifle”) should be restricted:
The shooting … at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was at the hands of someone who had access to an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle … should those kind of weapons be available to people?
Weld responded as follows, citing Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, who was able obtain a Sig Sauer MCX (similar to an AR-15) despite the prior presence of his name on an FBI terrorist watch list:
The five-shot rifle, that’s a standard military rifle; the problem is if you attach a clip to it so it can fire more shells and if you remove the pin so that it becomes an automatic weapon, and those are independent criminal offenses. That’s when they become essentially a weapon of mass destruction. The problem with handguns is probably even worse than the problem of the AR-15. You shouldn’t have anybody who’s on a terrorist watch list be able to buy any gun at all.
Weld didn’t use the term “firing pins” (just “a pin”) and he was talking about a particular type of firearm (rather than “any gun” or “all guns”), but to most gun advocates that’s probably bad enough. Likely Weld was mistakenly thinking of drop-in auto sears (DIAS) or other “part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun” under the definition of the National Firearms Act [PDF]:
Overall, both candidates on the Libertarian ticket have expressed unequivocal support for gun rights. In May 2016, Weld addressed controversy over his previous gun control positions by saying:
I am a lifelong hunter and gun owner. In 1993, however, as Governor of Massachusetts, I went along with some modest restrictions on certain types of firearms. I was deeply concerned about gun violence, and frankly, the people I represented were demanding action. Sometimes, governing involves tough choices, and I had to make more than a few.
Today, almost 25 years later, I would make some different choices. Restricting Americans’ gun rights doesn’t make us safer, and threatens our constitutional freedoms. I was pleased by and support the Supreme Court’s decision in the District of Columbia vs. Heller — a decision that embraced the notion that our Second Amendment rights are individual rights, not to be abridged by the government.
As for Johnson himself, in June 2016 he weighed in on the Orlando nightclub mass shooting by saying:
“I understand how so many people can believe that if you restrict this kind of weapon you can prevent this kind of incident,” said Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in reaction to the murders in Orlando and the political calls to further restrict access to certain guns that arose after the shooting.
“But there’s just no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it makes us any safer, and in fact restricting guns makes things less safe, that’s the camp that I’m in,” he said.
“If everybody in that nightclub had a weapon?” he wonders. “The contrary argument is, if everyone were required to have a weapon or if 50 people in the room had a weapon, you could hear arguments, well, people in a nightclub would be drinking and now all of a sudden they’ve got a gun in their pocket?”
But he ultimately concludes that “if it were that 10 people who could have had a weapon in that nightclub? That ultimately would have made the situation less horrific than it ended up being. I’m in that camp.”