Much of what’s said about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tends to paint him as a populist Democrat whose notions of America of firmly rooted in a mild form of socialism. But while there is very little room to the left of Sanders in an American democracy, he is one of the most moderate Democrats when it comes to the subject of gun control. Hailing from a state with few gun laws and a population of hunters and sportsmen, Sanders was even once supported by the NRA.
Now, with the Oregon school shooting fresh in the minds of the voters, Sanders is trying to reassure his liberal base that he’s as tough on guns as anyone else in the race. At a campaign appearance last week, Sanders said it was time for Americans to unite on gun control.
“Instead of people yelling at each other, we have got to come together on commonsense approaches which, in fact, the vast majority of the American people support,” said Sanders.
Sanders’s record on guns makes him unpopular with both the NRA and the gun-grabbing crowd. He’s in favor of assault rifle bans, but he’s against making national parks gun-free zones. He’s in favor of universal background checks, but he’s against a mandatory five-day waiting period.
What rankles liberals the most, though, is his position on gun manufacturer liability. Sanders voted in 2005 to protect gun makers and distributors from being sued in the aftermath of gun violence. “Here’s the reason I voted the way I voted: If you are a gun shop owner in Vermont and you sell somebody a gun and that person flips out and then kills somebody, I don’t think it’s really fair to hold that person responsible, the gun shop owner,” Sanders said on Meet the Press.
The law – the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – shields gun manufacturers from liability in all but a few cases, and it makes the gun-grabbing crowd extremely angry. Just listen to them rant about it on Slate:
The PLCAA was the No. 1 legislative priority of the National Rifle Association for years, because it shields gun makers and dealers from most liability when their firearms are used criminally. It is one of the most noxious pieces of pro-gun legislation ever passed. And Bernie Sanders voted for it.
Sanders has said that he would be willing to “take another look” at the law, but he has not indicated any particular willingness to change his mind on the PLCAA. Pundits expect that the subject of gun control will come up in a big way in Tuesday’s first Democratic debate, and that it could be an opportunity for Hillary Clinton to gain some traction with the frothing liberal base.
The argument is that Americans can sue almost any other manufacturer for deadly defects, but they are hamstrung when it comes to holding gun makers responsible. This is ridiculous. There’s a big difference between suing a car company because the airbag explodes in your face and suing them because someone T-boned you in an intersection. If someone wants to sue Bushmaster because their gun blew up in their hands, that’s acceptable. If they want to sue them because someone used one of their guns to kill, that’s not. That’s actively ridiculous.
No defender of the Second Amendment has any reason to vote for Bernie Sanders, but let’s hope he remains true to his principles when it comes to gun control. It’s good to know there’s at least one person running for president on the Democratic side that hasn’t completely lost his marbles on guns. Maybe instead of pandering to the extremists, Sanders can bring a modicum of common sense to the stage.