NEW ORLEANS -- Last week’s mass shooting in a Louisiana movie theater has prompted renewed attention on presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’s record on gun control, an area where his rivals for the Democratic nomination think he is vulnerable with liberal activists.
Sanders, who is campaigning in Louisiana this weekend, was pressed about his record by reporters Saturday night and again Sunday morning during an appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” In both cases, Sanders -- who voted against the landmark Brady bill in 1993 but said he could support universal background checks for gun purchasers today -- argued that he could help the nation find common ground.
“I think I am in a good position to reach out to urban American and rural America,” said Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who was backed by the gun lobby in his first successful run for Congress. He told the audience at a statewide gathering of the Louisiana Democratic Party that people on both sides of the issue need to “stop shouting at each other and come up with sensible legislation.”
Sanders was the only 2016 hopeful to speak in person at the party dinner, but both Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley appeared in pre-recorded videos shortly before Sanders spoke. O’Malley devoted most of his message to the tragedy in Lafayette, which left two people dead and nine injured. The shooter also took his own life.
“It’s not enough to console one another,” O’Malley said. “We have to take action. … Every candidate for president should say where they stand on this issue.”
O’Malley has called for several steps, including banning the sale of assault weapons, establishing a national gun registry and banning unlicensed private individuals from selling guns.
Clinton also has called for stepped-up gun control laws, in the wake of last month’s shootings at a church in Charleston, S.C.
Sanders did not touch on the issue of gun control during his 10-minute speech Saturday night. Afterward, as he took questions from reporters, he said that despite coming from a state that has virtually no gun restrictions, he has voted for several “sensible” gun bills during his congressional career, including in 2013 in the aftermath of the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Prior to that, in 1993, he voted against the landmark Brady Bill, which mandated federal background checks on firearms purchasers. In 2005, he also supported a bill to shield manufacturers from lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence.
During his “Meet the Press” appearance Sunday, Sanders said he could support universal instant background checks, saying “nobody should have a gun who has a criminal background, who’s involved in domestic abuse situations.”
“Second of all, I believe that we need to make sure that certain types of guns used to kill people, exclusively, not for hunting, they should not be sold in the United States of America,” Sanders said.
He also voiced support for ending the so-called “gun-show loophole” and said “there may be other things we can do.”
“Coming from a rural state, I think I can communicate with folks coming from urban states, where guns mean different things than they do in Vermont, where it's used for hunting,” Sanders said. “That's where we've got to go. We don't have to argue with each other and yell at each other, but we need a common-sense solution.”