Bernie Sanders’s campaign may be the latest victim of guns in America.
In the first few minutes of Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton ripped apart the democratic socialist Vermont senator over his moderate record on gun control. After Sanders gave a mealy-mouthed defense of his position on the issue, moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if Sanders was tough enough on gun violence. Her answer was blunt.
“No,” she said flatly. “Not at all.”
She then pushed ahead, arguing that Americans need to oppose the NRA and criticized Sanders for voting against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. And she tore into him for backing legislation that protected gun manufacturers over how their products are used.
Both of those stances have given Sanders a rare vulnerability on his left flank, as guns might be the single issue on which Clinton’s record is more liberal than his.
“I was in the Senate at the same time” when Sanders voted for protecting gun manufacturers, Clinton said, sounding delighted to capitalize on that vulnerability. “It wasn’t that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America—everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers, and we need to stand up and say enough of that, we’re not gonna let it happen.”
Clinton’s retort drew lengthy cheers from the crowd, putting Sanders in the unenviable position of trying to litigate the minutiae of federal gun policy before a crowd with minimal appetite for wonkiness and maximum appetite for Democratic red meat.
Sanders’s record on guns is complex. He told NPR this summer that urbanites should respect rural Americans’ cultural attachment to guns.
“I think that urban America has got to respect what rural America is about, where 99 percent of the people in my state who hunt are law-abiding people,” he said.
His record on guns matches his nuanced rhetoric. Sanders voted for legislation the NRA favored that protected gun manufacturers from lawsuits in 2005. That particular vote could haunt him during this primary, and has already won him the Slate “gun nut” title. Liberal activists have accused the senator of parroting the NRA’s rhetoric.
Clinton, on the other hand, has had little trouble shoring up her pro-gun-control bona fides. On the campaign trail, she’s gone so far as to suggest that if elected president she would look for ways to use her executive power to tighten gun regulations—regardless of whether Congress is on board. And, as Jacob Sullum noted at Reason, she suggested last year that the pro-gun viewpoint “terrorizes the majority of people.”
As The Daily Beast’s Jackie Kucinich noted, “other candidates may say they’re coming for unregulated guns. Clinton really is.”
The debate’s exchange over guns came shortly after another back-and-forth between the two candidates over economics. When Cooper pressed Sanders over whether his socialism would render him unelectable, he gave a rousing defense of the far-left ideology.
“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little?” he ranted. “By which Wall Street, greed, and wrecklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t.”
The crowd, delighted, burst into cheers.
Then Cooper asked if any of the other candidates also weren’t capitalists.
“Well, let me just follow up on that, Anderson,” replied Clinton, “because when I think about capitalism I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.”
The crowd cheered at that, too. Consensus: Guns are bad, Wall Street is very bad, and capitalism is TBD.