You can’t have an event like the Charleston shooting take place during election season without all of the candidates being asked to weigh in on gun control. (Once again pretending that any of the currently proposed gun control laws might have prevented that attack.) And since he’s still being discussed as a serious contender for some reason, Bernie Sanders was no exception. But when reporters asked the Vermont Senator to offer his thoughts on gun control, he took a pass.
Bernie Sanders says he wants to talk — at length — about guns.
Just not now.
Two days after a white man walked into a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people, the Vermont senator and presidential candidate took a cautious approach on gun control Friday when speaking with reporters after an event in Las Vegas.
“I think the people of Vermont understand that guns in Vermont are different than guns in Chicago or guns in Los Angeles,” Sanders said, telling the assembled journalists that he thinks “it is wrong” when people are “in some cases suicidal and in some cases homicidal” are “still being able to purchase guns.”
If Sanders has a weak spot in his armor in terms of pleasing his liberal base, it’s the gun question. Given his many other socialist positions that might come as a surprise, but Sanders’ own voting record on Second Amendment rights is shockingly moderate, or at least it was until quite recently. In 2009 he voted to allow guns in checked baggage on Amtrak trains. Two years before that he voted to prohibit funding for international organizations and agreements that would restrict US citizens’ gun rights. And in 2005 he voted for a ban on nuisance lawsuits against gun manufacturers. He currently has an “F” rating with the NRA, but in years past it has been higher. (Though never a full A rating.)
Of course, his record wasn’t perfect. After Newtown he voted in favor of the ban on 10 round magazines, and back in 1994 he was persuaded to vote for the so called “assault weapons” ban. But still, when questioned in the past he’s come up with some fairly sensible answers.
“If you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen,” he told Seven Days, an independent paper in Vermont.
This mostly reflects the necessity of aligning himself with the folks back home. Vermont still has essentially no gun control laws compared to the rest of the nation. (I think the mountain folk up there still remember having to chase off bears.) And contrary to the granola eating, “hippies in the mountains” reputation of Sanders’ home state, it has some other secrets as well which he may have to deal with while seeking a spot on the national stage. You never hear about any racial unrest in Vermont, it’s true, but that’s probably because it’s the second whitest state in the nation, only missing out on the top spot by two tenths of a percent at 97.7%. (For the record, Maine came in at number one during the last census with 97.9%.) Needless to say, Bernie doesn’t exactly hail from Diversity Central.
Sanders won’t be able to make it through the entire primary without taking a stand on this, so it will be interesting to see how he lines up against Hillary. Clinton, for her part, has been all over the map just as she has on most issues. In 2000, when running for the Senate in New York she was in favor of a national gun registry. In 2008, running against Barack Obama she spoke fondly of her father teaching her to shoot as a little girl and the importance of preserving the Second Amendment. (This led to Barack Obama’s famous “Annie Oakley” comment about Hillary during the primary.) Now that gun grabbing is back in vogue, however, Clinton was quick to jump on the bandwagon again this week.
But back to Sanders… he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate, so the media seems to be willing to oblige him and hit him with all the usual questions. I can’t wait to see how he spins things now. His big credential – if it can be called that – is his reputation for being a damn the torpedoes, lay it all on the line guy who gives you his unpopular opinions whether you want them or not. That works fine in Vermont. Let’s see how well he sticks to that in a national race.