With voting just weeks away and the polls tightening, there’s no more room for niceties in the Democratic race.
During the opening minutes of Sunday night’s Democratic debate in Charleston, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders traded blows over their respective histories with guns—and it got ugly, quick.
Clinton berated Sanders for his past voting “with the NRA,” as well as numerous times where Sanders had supported the gun lobby in Congress. She also said she was happy that Sanders ended up changing his tune on gun manufacturer immunity, something for which he voted in 2005. Sanders of course dismissed these charges, citing his D- minus rating with the NRA.
“I think that Secretary Clinton knows that what she says is very disingenuous,” Sanders fired back. He pivoted then to the violence that afflicted the city over the summer, referencing the massacre at the nearby Emanuel AME church.
“We have seen in this city a horrendous tragedy of a crazed person praying with people in the coming up and shooting nine people,” Sanders said. “This should not be a political issue. What we should be doing is working together.”
But when Sanders was pressed about why he had changed his position on gun manufacturer immunity, he stumbled.
“What I have said, is that gun manufacturer’s liability bill has some good provisions among other things, we’ve prohibited ammunition that would’ve killed cops who had protection on,” Sanders began his response.
“So what I said is I would re-look at it. We are going to re- look at it and I will support stronger provisions,” Sanders said.
Clinton, apparently sensing an opening, continued her onslaught.
“Yes look, I have made it clear based on Senator Sanders’ own record that he has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby numerous times,” Clinton said. “He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for what we call, the Charleston Loophole. He voted for immunity from gunmakers and sellers, which the NRA said was the most important piece of gun legislation in 20 years.”
Her list wasn’t done.
“He voted to let guns go onto the Amtrak, guns go into National Parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives. Let’s not forget what this is about, 90 people a day die from gun violence in our country. That’s 33,000 people a year.”
Both of their respective teams were ready to pounce as well, firing off evidence of their candidate’s claims with email blasts.
One article from the Clinton camp cited Sanders’ vote against the Brady Bill. “The NRA`s political action committee pumped nearly $1 million into 1990 congressional races, including the Sanders-Smith race,” a 1991 Sun-Sentinel piece read.
Sanders’ campaign, meanwhile, pointed to a somewhat less damning piece from Clinton’s 2008 campaign in which she disagreed with President Obama’s comment about Americans “clinging” to guns.
“I disagree with Sen. Obama’s assertion that people in our country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about trade and immigration simply out of frustration,” Clinton said at the time.
“It’s part of a way of life,” she said after sharing a story about learning to shoot. “People enjoy hunting and shooting because it’s an important part of who they are. Not because they are bitter.”