Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., after speaking at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
One element of the op-ed President Obama published in the New York Times on Thursday has raised questions about whether the commander in chief would endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., if he wins the Democratic primary. In that article, Obama said he would “not campaign for, vote for, or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform.” Obama proceeded to outline specific positions candidates must take to earn his backing, including opposing congressional votes that have “guaranteed that manufacturers enjoy virtual immunity from lawsuits, which means that they can sell lethal products and rarely face consequences.”
Sanders, who is currently the main opposition to frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, has voted for protections for gun manufacturers. He even defended this position in the aftermath of the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children were killed along with seven other people.
Sanders appeared on The Thom Hartmann Program in the hours after the shooting, on Dec. 14, 2012. On the show, he was asked if the parents of the victims had “any recourse against the gun manufacturer.” Sanders suggested he would seek solutions that did not place blame on firearms makers.
“I don’t know that you hold a gun manufacturer responsible for what obviously a deranged person does. The issue is what is the best way forward to prevent these types of horrible occurrences? How do we make sure the guns do not get into the hands of people who are mentally ill? How do we make sure that people own guns which are only designed to kill people not to be used for hunting or target practices? So I mean there’s a lot to be discussed, and I think we’ve got to do something. We don’t want to read about this every month. So, it is an issue we’re going to have to address,” Sanders said.
The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. Clinton has attacked Sanders for his record on gun control. Sanders supported 2005 legislation that gave some gun manufacturers and dealers protection from liability lawsuits, and he opposed the 1993 Brady Act, which called for waiting periods and background checks for gun buyers.
Sanders and his team have defended his record on guns by pointing out he has received low ratings from the National Rifle Association and represents a rural state with a strong hunting tradition. Recently, Sanders has signaled he would be open to re-examining his position on liability for gun manufacturers.
In spite of this, Obama’s comments have been viewed by many as being directed toward Sanders. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about this at his press briefing on Friday. Earnest claimed Obama’s words were not meant to signal a preference in the primary race.
“The president was quite intentional about raising this issue as it relates to gun manufacturers and how they have essentially abdicated their responsibility to ensure that their business practices and that their products are safe, but that was not any sort of secret or subtle signal to demonstrate a preference in the presidential primary,” Earnest said.
Watch a video of Sanders discussing the issue in the aftermath of the
Newtown shooting here.