As travelers pack trains to visit family this Thanksgiving, Bernie Sanders has helped make it possible for them to take their guns along with them.
After all, he says, in his home state of Vermont, people need to travel with their guns, by train, to go hunting.
“You’ve got hunters who are going from Vermont to the Midwest and they put their weapons, unloaded, in the cargo part. That’s the reason for that,” he said at a recent Democratic Forum in South Carolina.
Oddly, however: Hunters in Vermont interviewed by The Daily Beast say they’ve never heard of anybody doing that.
During the Democratic Forum, Maggie Thomasson, a viewer, posted a question on Facebook for Sanders. “Why did he vote against banning guns on Amtrak? We cannot carry loaded guns on airplanes. What was his reasoning for allowing it on trains?”
Thomasson was half-right. In 2009, the Senate voted to overrule a ban on guns on Amtrak trains that had been in place for nearly a decade.
Sanders supported the measure, which requires passengers to inform Amtrak that they have a weapon and carry the weapon in a locked, hard-sided container and the ammunition separately, “in the original manufacturer’s container,” like they would if they were traveling by plane.
Sanders responded to Thomasson’s question by explaining that his constituents who hunt need to be able to go out West by train, their weapons in tow.
But most of the hunters in Vermont contacted by The Daily Beast had never even heard of anybody traveling by train to go hunting, let alone done it themselves. Plane, yes. Car, sure. Train? Some of them just laughed.
George Caldwell of 802 Firearms in Burlington said, “I don’t know of any of my customers going on trains to go hunting.” Furthermore, he said, “I don’t even know where a train station is in Vermont. I’ve never been on a train in Vermont and to be honest, most of my customers are just driving their trucks to land that’s not even theirs to hunt on.”
The Amtrak thing, he said, “that’s news to me. It’s kind of funny to me.”
Caldwell himself has traveled by plane to go hunting, he said, but “my experience with traveling with a gun through the airport and stuff like that, it’s hellish.” He couldn’t imagine going on a train to hunt, or even having the desire to do so. “That’s kinda odd. It’s not something that’s common.”
He said he didn’t think it was a bad idea for it to be legal, however. “Your good old American who wants to just go hunt on an Amtrak train, that’s not who you should be worried about. You don’t know who you should be worried about.”
Lisa McCrillis of Gun Purveyors in Alburg thought the idea that anyone would take a train to go hunting was hilarious—and dangerous. “That’s silly,” she said. “I’ve never heard of anybody doing that.”
What if the train stops, McCrillis wanted to know, and somebody saw a gun case in the baggage and just took it? Nobody would notice until it was too late. And what if your train passed through somewhere, like New York, with impossibly stringent gun laws and was searched? Well, then, you’d probably become a felon.
“If somebody came in and asked me, ‘Lisa, can I take my gun on the train?’ I would say, ‘No, you can’t.’ That’s really bizarre.”
None of this was to say, McCrillis added, that someone, somewhere in Vermont wasn’t doing what Sanders said. But if they were, she’d certainly never heard of it.
Rick Gorham of Rick’s Gun Shop in Burke, Vermont, also had never heard of such a thing. “Uh, I don’t know anything about that,” he said. “I’ve never heard of anybody taking a gun on an Amtrak train. You can take ’em on a plane,” he said, but “I haven’t heard of anybody taking their gun on an Amtrak train, no.”
Gray Stevens of the Vermont Sportsman’s Club hadn’t heard of it either. “Oh, I don’t know anything about that,” he said. “Everybody that hunts takes their vehicle, goes to hunting camps. I don’t know anything about people using trains to go hunting. Once they get there, what are they gonna do, take a cab to the woods?”
Mike Fontaine of M&R Guns and Ammo in Highgate Center, Vermont, said the same thing.
“I don’t know nothing about people taking Amtrak trains,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me. I’m sure somebody has, but I just—I’ve never heard of anyone who spoke to anyone…I’d be curious to know who.”
One person reached by The Daily Beast had at least heard of the practice.
Chris Bradley, the secretary of the Vermont Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs in Northfield, said he agreed with Sanders’s decision to vote for the law, but “I’m gonna be hard-pressed to come up with a name of a person who I know has traveled by train and exercised their rights under this law.”
Personally, Bradley said, when he has to travel long distances to hunt, he goes by car or plane. “Vermonters, by and large, probably don’t use trains to get from point A to point B,” he said.
Back at the forum, Sanders explained, “You can put loaded guns into the baggage department of a plane. In other words, this is not people carrying a gun on the train. It’s putting it in a baggage.”
Amtrak has an 11-point list of rules, which became effective Dec. 15, 2010, for gun owners who want to travel with their weapons, including that it must be transported in a checked bag—so trains without a baggage claim are a no-go.
What’s not clear is how Amtrak enforces their regulations. Who’s to say people aren’t traveling with their guns on all sort of Amtrak trains—with or without checking their bags—and Amtrak simply has no idea? Anyone who’s been on an Amtrak train can attest that bags aren’t searched or screened like at the airport. A spokesperson for Amtrak declined to comment.
Sanders’s record on guns has come under scrutiny from the left, especially as Sanders is touted as the liberal challenger to Hillary Clinton, who herself favors strict laws.
Vermont, once a Republican state, is now reliably blue—but predominantly rural. Supporting what 2nd Amendment advocates would consider common-sense laws, like Sanders’s Amtrak vote, doesn’t make Sanders any less liberal from the standpoint of voters back home
At the Democratic Forum in South Carolina, Sanders tried to make the case that he wasn’t the “gun nut” that some were making him out to be.
“I know Hillary Clinton has kind of misstated my view,” he complained. “As a nation, we are gonna have to stop shouting at each other and we’re gonna have to come together…Very strong gun control advocates may not get everything they want and people who think they should have a missile launcher in their backyard as a constitutional right may not have that.”
A spokesman for Sanders’s campaign has not yet responded to an inquiry.