I don't quite understand what Donald Trump just said, especially the phrase in bold:

"Hillary wants to abolish—essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."


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    @jcast Indeed, I've downvoted the question. Trying to understand Trump's stream of consciousness when he speaks extemporaneously is tough enough for a native English speaker. For those trying to learn it as a second language, the task is virtually impossible. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:48
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    @MontyH - You have the right to downvote, of course, but, in my opinion, that's a pretty rash reason to do so. Whether you like Trump or detest him, people ought to be able to inquire about excerpts of campaign speeches if they have trouble understanding the meaning – so long as the question is truly about understanding the English, and stays away from underlying political implications (there's another SE site for that).
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:23

9 Answers 9


Many analysts, across the spectrum of political belief, claim that Mr Trump engages here in what is termed dog whistle political speech. In the same way that a dog whistle produces a tone which is audible to a dog but not to a human, dog whistle rhetoric carries a specific meaning which is clearly understood by the targeted audience, but which is sufficiently ambiguous that listeners outside of that targeted audience will not perceive it as they do.

In this case, the targeted audience is assumed by these analysts to comprise those Americans who believe that the Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is planning secretly to deprive them of their rights under the second amendment to the United States Constitution, which prevents the government from infringing upon their right "to keep and bear arms."

The aforementioned analysts deduce that the candidate here infers that the Second Amendment people (Americans who zealously defend that right and who own firearms) may be able to punish Ms Clinton should she be elected to the Presidency and succeed in her alleged plot to appoint Supreme Court justices who would somehow revoke the Second Amendment. Implicit in their deduction is the unsupported belief that the Second Amendment people are willing to employ violence in defense of their rights under that amendment. The dog whistle in their analysis is the unspoken threat that this punishment will be effected with firearms: that she (or the Supreme Court justices whom she might appoint) will be shot.

Mr Trump and his supporters rejoin that he intended to imply nothing of the sort, and that his statement was merely an admonition to vote against Ms Clinton.

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    Is there any evidence to support your claim that "the majority of analysts" believe he is calling people to arms to shoot the Democrat nominee?
    – mikeazo
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:15
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    Why do you assume he meant "she will be shot", and not that the "Second Amendment People" will vote for Trump, keep her from attaining office, and thwart this result? Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:23
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    @Keeta Because that interpretation is honestly akin to interpreting "put it where the sun don't shine" as "you'd better keep that in a well-closed box, dear".
    – oerkelens
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:38
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    @mikeazo I intentionally focussed my answer on the dog whistle device because it has value for a student of English. If the reader imputes political judgment to my answer, I have at least as much plausible deniability as Mr Trump. I have to say, though, that at this stage in the proceedings, those who hold that his statement was an innocent call to vote are in the minority. Even the Secret Service have met with the campaign over the statement. Are we to assume that they also are mistaken? Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 19:30
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    Trump said that if Hillary is elected, then the "second amendment people" can still change things. Clearly, what he meant was that the "second amendment" people could go back in time and peacefully encourage people to vote differently.It is a little known fact that the founding fathers also intended the second amendment to cover time machines, and armed with that knowledge, it is clear that Trump was not encouraging violence.
    – danwyand
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:44

The Second Amendment refers to:

The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms and was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the first ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights.

Loosely speaking, "Second Amendment people" are people who strongly believe, defend, and practice their Second Amendment rights to carry firearms.

Trump claimed that if Clinton gets to pick the judge, that judge would abolish the Second Amendment and there is "nothing you can do". In other words, there would no longer be the right to keep and bear arms in the US. He then said, "Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is". This last part is poorly formed. We can infer some of the missing details and rephrase it as

  1. Although, maybe there is something the Second Amendment people can do. or
  2. Although, maybe the Second Amendment people can do something about it.

With a few more details, it is easier to see why this has been widely interpreted as threatening language. Since the "Second Amendment people" are known for their guns, Trump's statement has been interpreted as a suggestion to them to take their firearms and harm Clinton.

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    Thanks. Although I'm a native English speaker, I didn't understand this at all until I read your explanation.
    – Owen
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 9:30
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    This is a better answer for this site than the one above that's getting all the argumentative comments, because it focuses on the language, not the politics.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 18:02
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    I believe this answer is a breath of fresh air compared to the highly politicized and biased answer that is the currently selected answer, and which is therefore misleading to @haile. I also think it is important to point put that 'Second Amendment People' do not advocate the use of "their guns" to commit illegal actions. If the question were edited to make that point, it would, in my opinion, be more helpful and well-rounded. Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 4:04
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    @AlanCarmack Can you cite an instance of bias in my answer? It discusses only the dog whistle rhetorical device as it is alleged to have been employed here, and links only to a Wikipedia article on the same device. The entire answer is rife with usages of alleged and assumed, and intentionally so. Absolutely nowhere in the answer is it asserted that this group advocate the illegal use of firearms. The point is made only that those who allege that the candidate is using the device make such an assertion. Again: please cite a single instance of bias. I think you cannot. Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 5:48
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    Also, may I say that it is exceedingly bad form to comment upon a different answer here. The commentary under my answer was moved to chat for a good reason. This sort of thing does no credit to Max, whose own answer analyzes the constructions rather than the rhetorical device, and is, in my estimation, of equal value. Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 5:55

"Maybe there is, I don't know..."

This is the meat of what he was getting at. If his intent was to suggest that supporters of the second amendment should go out and vote, he would have simply said that, as it has no negative connotations. However, in the common vernacular of the US, the phrase "I don't know" used in a context like this is almost certainly a way of saying something he couldn't or shouldn't actually verbalize. What exactly it was that he couldn't verbalize is what's not 100% clear. It's only 95% clear (no source, just opinion) that he was implying that "the second amendment people" when faced with the situation where there would be "nothing [they] can do," that some portion of them would come to the natural (though morbid) conclusion that the only thing they could do would be to shoot Clinton and/or her SCOTUS picks.

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    I feel as though this is the true gist of the joke, of which many choose not to accept-- as you say bury one's head. The 'nothing to do but shoot' is the immediate connotation I had when I heard this statement, though I suppose one could (at great length I assume) construe this to mean else-wise.
    – scape
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 19:36
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    Or he is suggesting that the "second amendment people" would rise in arms if judges appointed to the Supreme Court by Clinton were to eliminate gun rights.
    – David42
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 20:56
  • @DavidC He knows who he is pandering to. As this answer says, the second amendment people: the rabid supporters of gun ownership who are marginally supportive of his agenda (not the normal, apolitical gun owners who would have nothing to do with this man.)
    – Kristopher
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 14:39
  • @Kristopher I think the relevant question is, "What do the 'second amendment people' say they will 'do about it'?" Whatever that is, Trump is referring to it. We need reliable sources to answer this question.
    – David42
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 15:59

We might as well take a quick look at the grammar of the amendment and of Trump's statement while we're at it.

As you know, the "Second Amendment people" are ardent supporters of the right of the people to bear arms, as set forth here:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Note the absolute clause there: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state". [Modernized punctuation; the comma after "militia" in the original does not change the meaning, and today we would hyphenate well-regulated.] The absolute clause establishes the rationale or basis for the right: to protect its security a free state requires a well-regulated militia. This need is "a given".

By the way, colonial militias maintained detailed lists of their members and of the weapons each man possessed.

When Trump says "Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is" [sic], he is dropping the word "with", offering us his own absolute construction, presenting us with another "given": "Although, with the Second Amendment people..." which would mean "Although, given how the Second Amendment people are wont to act...".

As Trump might say, he was "just tossing the idea out there".

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    If Trump supporters claim that he was absolutely just calling them to vote against Hillary, why does he say "I don't know" at the end? What doesn't he know? It makes it sound like he is "just tossing the idea out there" of a call to violence.
    – Zack
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:53
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    No wish to comment on anything but the grammar.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:19
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    "By the way, colonial militias maintained detailed lists of their members and of the weapons each man possessed." Interesting. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 19:30
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    @Zack Trump says exactly what he means. Unless he doesn't. But he does if it's something I agree with. But he doesn't if I think it might make Trump look negative.
    – SGR
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 12:08
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    Some people, when they open their mouth, have a whole sentence planned. Some people, not so much. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 5:11

TRomano's answer very briefly touched on the grammatical side of the issue. Nobody else seems to have gone near it. So here's my explanation.

Grammatically, there are several missing elements that are left implied.

I make no judgements on the quality of Trump's speaking. This is a very common way of speaking, particularly in informal situations, and native speakers will be able to "fill in the blanks".

In this case, there do seem to be some different opinions on how to fill in the blanks, but I believe they are a minority. The majority of listeners/readers and commentators seem to agree on the following interpretation:

...if she gets to pick her judges, there is nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people– [sentence cuts off] Maybe there is something the Second Amendment people can do.

Wait, where did I pull "something" from? The implied contrast that takes us from "nothing" to "something" goes like this:

There is not a thing ("is nothing") you can do.

Although [reversing previous statement], maybe there is a thing ("is something").

With the grammar understood, the meaning should follow relatively easily; others have given good explanations of who "Second Amendment people" are and what they might do.

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    When Alan offered a bounty on this question I cringed because it's already generated so much political angst completely unrelated to English. +1 for sticking to the English in a succinct and neutral way.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 12:43

"Hillary wants to abolish—essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know,"

I just heard this clip now, thanks to your question.

The following following is a natural, apolitical filling-in-the-ellipses left out of the clip. The passage, as I heard it in the video clip you provided, is naturally interpreted as:

Hillary wants to abolish--(that is) essentially abolish--the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick...{sound of boos in response to first sentence} If she gets to pick her judges {pause} (there is) nothing you can do, folks (to prevent her from "essentially" abolishing the Second Amendment).

{pause} Although (let's not forget the existence of or there is the existence of) the Second Amendment people... (therefore) maybe there is (a way to prevent her from "essentially" abolishing the Second Amendment). I don't know.

This is what the clip says, from a grammatical point of view.

I understand the noun phrase The Second Amendment people to refer to People who support the Second Amendment and would be against abolishing it. In this context, it refers to "people" (including groups) who have made protecting the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment part of their political stance.

As I have indicated above, the phrase Although the Second Amendment People means, grammatically:

Although (let's not forget the existence of or there is the existence of) the Second Amendment people...

or simply

Although (there are) the Second Amendment people...

or again:

Although the Second Amendment people (exist)...

As the ELL question “exist” vs. “there are” shows, there is basically no difference in meaning when filling in the ellipsis (deleted part) to mean either there are or exist.


Nouns as adjectives

Let's move away from the politics a bit and look at this phrase at face value.

The Second Amendment people

To move even farther from that subject, I'll just use another noun, Milk.

The milk people.

That phrase can have two meanings

  • People who are made out of milk
  • People who advocate milk.

Some examples with other nouns

  • Mud people
  • Lego people
  • Tree people
  • Lizard people
  • Spider people

Each one of these can have the 2 meanings described above. Tree people can be people who are made out of trees or they can be people who are for trees. a.k.a tree-huggers.

But there are also buzzwords.

  • immigration
  • "The Wall"
  • same-sex marriage
  • pro-life / pro-choice (abortion)
  • green (renewable energy)

A person cannot be made of "pro-life", but they can be an advocate for it.

So, when Donald Trump says "Second Amendment" people, you have to ask yourself

Can you be made of The Second Amendment? No.

You now know that he means people who are advocating the 2nd amendment.


I think the last bit is a tongue in cheek morbid joke and not any sort of threat or call to arms if she's elected.

The statement that maybe a gun nut will assassinate Hilary if she becomes president doesn't make him more electable so he is not saying "Vote for me or else Hilary will get assassinated".

Maybe he's saying "Vote for me or one of you will have to take it upon yourself to murder her if you want to keep your guns". This is unlikely in my opinion because it just doesn't make sense. Even if the 2nd amendment were completely repealed then the 5th amendment would make it practically impossible for the government to actually collect everyone's guns even if it were a crime to possess them.

I think that referring to people as "Second Amendment people" is derogatory. People that vigorously espouse their 2nd amendment rights don't refer to themselves as "Second Amendment people". He then, albeit subtly, talks about someone killing a US president. People generally don't want to murder others and those that want to kill a US president have to get past the Secret Service to do so. Judging by the way he speaks of this so trivially, I would say he was attempting to make a morbid joke. Of course, making such a morbid joke on purpose would be only a little more acceptable for a presidential candidate than a veiled threat so he couldn't come out and say he was joking either.

  • So he made a derogatory reference to the very people whose votes he's counting on? Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 3:48
  • @JoeTaxpayer Well yes but most gun enthusiasts don't consider themselves "2nd amendment people" however many of them would recognize that there are crazies who do belong in that camp. It's kind of like how a bunch of poor people will vote against social programs because they don't realize they benefit from them. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 15:20

It's only "confusing" because apparently no one wants to punctuate it correctly.

[Update: Actually, it seems someone else noticed what I'm about to say, too.]

Of course it doesn't make sense -- it's not even grammatical:

Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

But try punctuating it correctly, and the meaning becomes clear:

Although... the Second Amendment, people! Maybe there is; I don't know...

He's quite obviously saying that the Second Amendment provides a potential solution, but stopping short of actually explaining what the solution might be, claiming he "doesn't know".

I'm sure your imagination won't have trouble figuring out what that means.

But didn't Trump himself verify there was no comma?!

Don't forget he also "verified" that by "blood coming out of her wherever" he meant Megyn Kelly's face.

Did you believe him there too? Because he became a subject of national ridicule.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; a conversation here has been moved to chat.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 9:10

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