DONALD Trump has ignited a fresh political firestorm by declaring gun rights supporters might still find a way to stop Hillary Clinton, even if she should defeat him and then name anti-gun Supreme Court justices.
Democrats pounced, accusing him of openly encouraging violence against his opponent.
The Republican presidential nominee has been working this week to move past distracting campaign disputes but once again he put himself at the centre of a blazing controversy.
First, he falsely claimed that Clinton, his Democratic opponent, wants to “essentially abolish the Second Amendment.” She has said repeatedly that she supports the Second Amendment right to own guns, though she does back some stricter gun control measures.
Trump then noted the power Clinton would have to nominate justices to the high court.
“By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people – maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina. “But I’ll tell you what. That will be a horrible day.”
The reaction from Democrats was immediate. Said her campaign manager, Robby Mook: “This is simple– what Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way.”
Trump’s reaction later as the uproar grew was simple: “Give me a break.” Interviewed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he said everyone in his audience knew he was referring to the power of voters and “there can be no other interpretation”.
Trump’s campaign sought to quell the controversy with a statement that blamed the “dishonest media” for misinterpretation. And Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, said his boss was talking about the election choice for pro-gun voters, not encouraging violence.
Yet Trump’s foes were unconvinced and unforgiving.
Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said, “I think it was just revealing and I don’t find the attempt to roll it back persuasive at all.”
Priorities USA, a super Political Action Committee supporting Clinton, said Trump had “suggested that someone shoot Hillary Clinton.” Across the country, Democratic House and Senate candidates piled on, working to tie Trump’s comments to their Republican opponents.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has endorsed Clinton, said Trump was encouraging gun violence “based on conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton.”
Tweeted Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, “(at)realDonaldTrump makes death threats because he’s a pathetic coward who can’t handle the fact that he’s losing to a girl.”
The National Rifle Association, the gun lobby that has endorsed Trump, came to his defence. The group wrote on Twitter that “there’s nothing we can do” if Clinton is elected, urging voters to defeat her in November.
The controversy immediately overwhelmed Trump’s intended campaign-trail focus: the economic plan he unveiled just a day earlier and was promoting during a series of rallies in the most competitive general election states. It also reinforced the concern, voiced by many worried Republicans, that he cannot stay disciplined and avoid inflammatory remarks that imperil not only his White House prospects but the re-election chances of many Republican lawmakers.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was celebrating a primary victory in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, said: “It sounds like just a joke gone bad. I hope they clear this up very quickly. You never joke about something like that.”