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The Problem with Dan Crenshaw’s Tweet on Lending Guns

And the bad-faith response by AOC and the gun-control left.
by Jim Swift
September 4, 2019
The Problem with Dan Crenshaw’s Tweet on Lending Guns
Rep. Dan Crenshaw. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As corporations like Walmart and Kroger are responding to recent spates of gun violence by asking customers in open-carry states to leave their guns at home—well within their rights as business owners—Congress and the media are debating how (and whether) there might be anything done about gun violence in America. 

Spoiler alert: Joe Biden is probably right that nothing is going to get past Mitch McConnell in the near term. Accepting this reality, politicians are taking their fights to Twitter, where most of America’s insufferable political arguments take place. 

At question here is how the Texas man who shot 29 people and killed seven on Saturday was able to get a weapon; he was prevented from purchasing a gun five years ago because of mental health issues. 

Did he slip through a crack in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System? Did a private dealer not subject to background-check laws sell it to him? And would H.R. 8, which creates background check guidelines for private sellers and was passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in February have helped? The bill has five Republican co-sponsors, and achieved eight Republican votes. 

Lacking the answer to that question has done nothing to stop politicians from fighting about it. And alas, they are not presenting their best arguments.

From the right, we have Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Navy Seal and war hero. Late Tuesday, he expressed his concern about the universal background checks—a Washington-speak misnomer if ever there were one—by citing the example of a Texas woman who fended off robbers with a handgun.  

Crenshaw cites a tangential case here, a woman who didn’t anticipate being robbed defending herself and her property. Per Crenshaw, “We would make felons out of people just for defending themselves.” 

Crenshaw’s example here doesn’t really apply. He cites her “traveling alone” but she was arriving home at 2:30 a.m. and new stories don’t mention the length of her journey. Was it just work? If Hudgins were personal friends with Crenshaw, at what point would she have visited him to borrow a gun? Gun owners don’t often lend their handguns to friends for travel. It’s possible, but probably not very common. 

There are a number of problems with this scenario Crenshaw lays out. The first is giving a loaded weapon to somebody who may not be trained to or capable of wielding it. The second is knowing what the laws are. Giving a firearm to a stranger or acquaintance is a bad idea, no matter how noble the intent. Firearm makers and dealers enjoy some protection from civil liability because it makes sense; individuals don’t have federal protection, civil or criminal. And then there are the many issues involved with crossing state lines and different laws in different jurisdictions.

If I may generalize about Texas for a second, about 35 percent of people there are estimated to own firearms. Non-gun-owning Texans are probably more likely to have experience with guns than, say, a writer from Brooklyn. That does not make lending them a handgun for travel a good idea. Even if it is legal. (And, especially if you’re a member of Congress.)

Of course, because everything can be terrible at once, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez assumed that Crenshaw is in the business of lending guns to spouse-beating friends:

There are two ways to look at AOC’s response. The first is that AOC could be arguing with Crenshaw from an Earth 2 standpoint, where H.R. 8, the bill that AOC supported and Crenshaw opposed had been passed in the Senate and signed into law. It didn’t, it wasn’t, and it likely won’t be. The other is that she’s arguing with him potentially lending handguns to friends under present law, in which case she’s suggesting his friends are violent offenders.

So Crenshaw cherry-picked an unlikely and uncommon scenario to make his point and AOC responded with a bad-faith argument.  Shocker. 

People do lend guns to each other frequently. A few better examples might be:

  • Securing a friend’s firearms while they’re on a long work trip, or deployed. It’s far more responsible to allow a trusted friend to safekeep your guns if you’re going to be away that long. Plus, not many storage unit chains allow you to store your firearms. They have property rights, too, and most sensible gun owners abide by that.
  • Letting a friend try your new gun at the firing range. It’s always best to shoot with friends, but sometimes you might be busy. I wouldn’t lend a gun to a friend who wasn’t already a gun owner or “gun nut” if I weren’t there. (I don’t even like lending DVDs.)
  • Letting a friend use a shotgun or rifle when hunting. (Crenshaw responded to AOC with this example.) You can bring guns on planes, but not a lot of people go deer hunting with pistols. Checking a gun in accordance with airline policies on airplanes for hunting trips is often costly and a hassle. 

Some of these are even covered as exemptions in H.R. 8, Sec. 3 (F). Hunting and shooting ranges are covered, but storage and safekeeping is not. Nor is self-defense. And there could be a valid, though unlikely, scenario to lend a firearm to somebody for self protection: riots. Much of the law has been put on hold in such a scenario anyway, and will get sorted out later. 

But these are all hypotheticals. And neither Crenshaw nor AOC are really adding much to the debate. Such is 2019. 

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.