Kavanaugh defends his decision about semi-automatic rifles "not being a dangerous and unusual weapon"

Kavanaugh, dodging the actual question, said semi-automatic rifles cannot be distinguished from semi-automatic handguns.
September 5, 2018, 4:55pm

The National Rifle Association has flexed its support for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying he’ll be a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment on the bench. For some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, that’s enough to push back on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, made a point of noting during her opening remarks Tuesday that she would fight the “president’s promise to appoint a nominee blessed by the NRA,” before opening up questions to the judge about school shootings. “I never thought this would happen in our country, that someone would bring a semi-automatic assault weapon into a school and just mow down children and staff,” Feinstein said, while also mentioning her 1993 legislation on assault weapons. Then she asked Kavanaugh — who once wrote that the District of Columbia’s assault weapon ban was unconstitutional — for his opinion on assault weapons. (He had previously argued that such weapons are in “common use” and therefore protected by the Second Amendment.) Kavanaugh, dodging Feinstein’s actual question, said semi-automatic rifles cannot be distinguished from semi-automatic handguns, as both are “widely possessed in the United States” and are not considered unusually dangerous. The judicial nominee also told Feinstein he was following Supreme Court precedent in his decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark guns rights ruling from 2008. “That seemed to fit common use and not being a dangerous and unusual weapon,” he said of his opinion in the Heller decision. “I was trying to follow strictly and carefully the Supreme Court precedent.” Kavanaugh allowed that “the violence in the schools is something we all detest and want to do something about.” But the debate over violence in schools took on a human face at the hearing Tuesday, when the father of a student who died in the Parkland massacre attempted to shake Kavanaugh’s hand during a break in the Senate committee's opening statements. The father, Fred Guttenberg, had been introduced earlier by Feinstein. Read more: This is what happened when the father of a Parkland victim tried to shake Brett Kavanaugh's hand

It wasn’t clear whether Kavanaugh recognized Guttenberg, although video footage posted on social media showed Kavanaugh giving Guttenberg a once-over before turning around and walking away. Raj Shah, deputy press secretary at the White House, later claimed that Kavanaugh hadn’t refused to shake the man’s hand but was simply escorted away by security because an unidentified person was approaching him. (There did not appear to be any security guards visible in footage of the incident.)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, addressed the Guttenberg run-in during his line of questioning Wednesday. “What would you like to say to them, if anything, about your job as a Supreme Court justice?” Graham asked. “I understand the real-world effects of our decisions,” Kavanaugh said.

Cover image: Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh answers questions from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) during the second day of his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.