Hours after setting off fresh controversy during a speech in Wilmington, N.C., Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump insisted that he had not intended to encourage violence against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with his allusion to "Second Amendment people" who could stop the Democratic candidate from stacking the Supreme Court with antigun justices.
"This is a political movement," Mr. Trump said in an interview with FOX News afterward. "This is a strong powerful movement, the Second Amendment. Hillary wants to take your guns away. She wants to leave you unprotected in your home."
"There can be no other interpretation," Trump added. "I mean, give me a break."
On Tuesday, Trump began at the North Carolina rally by saying, falsely, that his Democratic competitor wanted to "essentially abolish the Second Amendment."
In fact, Mrs. Clinton has frequently said she recognizes the right to own guns, though she also would seek additional controls. "I'm not here to take away your guns," she said in her Democratic National Convention speech, according to the AP. "I just don't want you to be shot by someone who shouldn't have a gun in the first place."
Trump went on to warn of the shape the Supreme Court could take if Clinton were elected.
"By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," he continued. "Although the Second Amendment people – maybe there is, I don't know. But I'll tell you what. That will be a horrible day."
The Clinton campaign seized on the chance to portray Trump as fatally undisciplined.
"I really, frankly couldn't believe he said it," said Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, according to the AP. "Nobody who is seeking a leadership position, especially the presidency, the leadership of the country, should do anything to countenance violence, and that's what he was saying."
Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut, a prominent advocate of gun-control since the 2012 shooting of a Newtown elementary school, wrote on Twitter that the comments were an "assassination threat," not a "political misstep."
"This isn't play," he said, addressing the tweet to Trump. "Unstable people with powerful guns and an unhinged hatred for Hillary are listening to you."
Some Republicans expressed unease with the comments, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, who told the AP it sounded "like just a joke gone bad." But he added, "I hope they clear this up very quickly. You never joke about something like that."
Trump's campaign called the controversy an example of media dishonesty, with the candidate himself saying the press was "desperate to distract" from Clinton's stance on gun control.
"It's called the power of unification – Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power," Jason Miller, senior Trump communications adviser, said in a statement to FOX News. "And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.