The former Rhode Island politician seeks the presidency with a new party and a change of heart towards the Second Amendment.
On January 5th, 2020, Lincoln Chafee filed to run for president as a Libertarian after switching his political designation for the fourth time in the past 35 years last summer.
A former independent governor and Republican senator of Rhode Island, Chafee sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. A consistently anti-war candidate, Chafee had hoped to capture the anti-war vote by promoting his role as the lone Republican senator to vote NAY on the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq in 2002. According to The Des Moines Register, Chafee made the following statement concerning his vote while campaigning in Iowa in 2015:
I did my homework and I went down to CIA and I found there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. It was all a hoax.
The final report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States of America Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, released in March of 2005, that found no evidence of Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction validated Chafee’s NAY vote, earning him credibility within the anti-war community. As Reason’s Scott Shackford put it, “[Chafee was] really, really hoping that [his] one vote on Iraq [was] going to differentiate himself from Clinton” and her more bellicose foreign policy in the 2016 nomination process. While his vote may have differentiated Chafee from Clinton, it ultimately didn’t win him the Democratic nomination.
Chafee’s opposition to the Iraq War will surely play well within the Libertarian Party’s voter base, but his past (and fairly recent) advocacy for gun control most certainly will not. For example, in 2013 when he was governor of Rhode Island, Chafee backed multiple gun control bills, some of which would have banned the pseudo category of guns known as “assault weapons” and imposed a 10-round limit on magazines in the state. Similarly, during a Democratic debate in 2016 when he was asked to explain his “F” rating from the National Rifle Association, Chafee defended his record of voting for what he called “common-sense” gun safety legislation. He also criticized the gun lobby for perpetuating the narrative that gun control leads to gun confiscation.
Notably, that narrative wasn’t as unwarranted as Chafee had believed, since in the current election cycle a former Democratic presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke, openly acknowledged his desire to disarm law-abiding citizens.
In fact, the chairman of the Rhode Island Libertarian Party, Pat Ford, told The Providence Journal earlier this month that although Libertarians typically agree with Chafee about the Iraq War and his stance on the 38 Studios debacle which cost Rhode Island taxpayers approximately $53.9 million, “[Chafee] will need to demonstrate some evolution on [the Second Amendment], because that is a right [Libertarians] take very seriously.”
Despite his past of promoting gun control, a January 15th post on Chafee’s official Facebook page suggests that Chafee has turned over a new leaf. The post reads:
The Second Amendment was written to ensure that the people would always have more power than the government. I will not do anything that gives our already too powerful government more power over its people, or weakens the people in their ability to defend themselves against tyrants or other threats.
When a commenter on the post noted the conflict between the above statement and Chafee’s past stance on guns, Chafee replied with a lengthy response citing the government’s untruthfulness to its citizens as the primary driver for his 180 on his interpretation of the Second Amendment. In particular, he cited the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the National Security Agency’s surveillance of American citizens, and the Afghanistan Papers as revelations that “the Second Amendment should be adhered to the fullest extent.”
Although Chafee was no ally of the Second Amendment for the majority of his political career, his current answer to the question “Do Americans have the right to own AR-15s?” is a firm “Yes.” The only question left is will Chafee’s change of heart on the right to keep and bear arms convince Libertarians to choose him as their nominee?