The three Democratic presidential candidates sparred over gun control early on in their debate in Charleston, S.C., on Sunday night.
Their exchange began with questions about the shifting position of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on a bill limiting liability for gun manufacturers and sellers whose products are used in crimes. As Sanders has gained in the polls, frontrunner Hillary Clinton has attacked him on the issue.
Though the spotlight was on Clinton and Sanders, the long-shot third-place candidate Martin O’Malley got in the last word on gun control. O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, argued that both Clinton and Sanders are “inconsistent” on guns.
“I’ve listened to Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders go back and forth on which of them has the most inconsistent record on gun safety legislation, and I would have to agree with both of them. They’ve both been inconsistent when it comes to this issue,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley went on to tout his record.
“When it comes to this issue, I’m the one candidate on this stage that actually brought people together to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation,” he said, later adding, “It did have a ban on combat assault weapons, universal background checks, and you know, we did not interrupt a single person’s hunting season. I’ve never met a self-respecting deer hunter that needed an AR-15 to down a deer.”
The exchange began with the moderators asking Sanders about reversing his position on a 2005 bill that gave some gun manufacturers and sellers immunity from liability. Sanders voted for the legislation, and Clinton had been attacking him for it before he announced a change of heart on Saturday, just before the debate.
Sanders claimed Clinton’s efforts to paint him as soft on gun control
“I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA. I was — in 1988, there were three candidates running for Congress in the state of Vermont. I stood up to the gun lobby and came out and maintained the position that, in this country, we should not be selling military-style assault weapons,” Sanders said. “I have supported from day one an instant background check to make certain that people who should not have guns do not have guns — and that includes people with criminal backgrounds, people who are mentally unstable. I support what President Obama is doing in terms of trying to close the gun show loopholes, and I think it should be a federal crime if people act as straw man.”
Sanders also referenced the shooting that took place at a historic African-American church in Charleston last year.
“We have seen in this city a horrendous tragedy, of a crazed person praying with people, and coming out, and shooting nine people,” said Sanders. “This should not be a political issue. What we should be doing is working together, and by the way, as a senator from a rural state that has virtually no gun control, I believe that I am in an excellent position to bring people together to fight for sensible gun safety legislation.”
After the moderators pointed out that Sanders had not addressed the question about his shift on the liability law, he said he chose to take a further look at the legislation.
“What we also said is that a small mom-and-pop gun shop who sells a gun legally to somebody should not be held liable if somebody does something terrible with that gun,” Sanders said. “What I said is I was going to re-look at it, we are going to re-look at it, and I will support stronger provisions.“
Clinton responded that she was simply pointing out Sanders’ “own record.”
“Look, I have made it clear based on Sen. Sanders’ own record that he has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby, numerous times. He voted against the Brady bill five times. He voted for what we call the Charleston loophole. He voted for immunity for gun makers and sellers, which the NRA said was the most important piece of gun legislation in 20 years. He voted to let guns go onto Amtrak, guns go into national parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives,” Clinton said of her rival.
Clinton concluded by saying 33,000 people a year die from gun violence. She said she looked forward to Sanders’ joining other members of Congress who were fighting to strip gun manufacturers and sellers of legal immunity.
“There is no other industry in America that was given the total pass that the gun makers and dealers were, and that needs to be reversed,” Clinton said.
(Cover tile photo: Randall Hill/Reuters)