CHARLESTON, S.C. – Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his support Saturday for legislation that would reverse a decade-old law he supported that grants immunity to gun dealers and manufacturers when crimes are committed with their products.
Sanders’s announcement, which came on the eve of a Democratic debate here, followed stepped-up criticism of his previous position from his rival, Hillary Clinton, who has argued that gun control is among the major differences between the candidates.
In a statement, the Vermont senator said the bill being circulated on Capitol Hill would “tighten” the 2005 law, which he has said was a “complicated” vote for him. Sanders said his support for the new legislation is consistent with his statements on the issue from the past several months.
“I’m pleased that this legislation is being introduced,” Sanders said of proposal by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
Sanders added that he would push for an amendment that would require the Secretary of Commerce to monitor the impact of the measure on “non-negligent” gun dealers in rural communities.
Sanders has said he voted against the 2005 legislation out of concern about its impact on such “mom-and-pop” operations in states like Vermont.
“As I have said, I do want to make sure that this legislation does not negatively impact small gun stores in rural America that serve the hunting community,” Sanders said in in his statement.
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said Saturday that Sanders has yet to acknowledge he was on the wrong side of the issue in 2005.
“Bernie Sanders took the wrong position when it mattered most, and he should admit that his vote was a mistake,” Fallon said, noting that the National Rifle Association said at the time that the bill was passed that it was the most significant piece of pro-run legislation in 20 years.
Clinton's stepped-up criticism of Sanders's 2005 vote has coincided with a tightening of the polls in Iowa, the first presidential nominating state.
Sanders also said Saturday that he is pleased that the Blumenthal/Schiff legislation would leave in place provisions in the 2005 law that require child safety locks on guns and ban armor-piercing ammunition.
After Sanders announced his position, Schiff, who has endorsed Clinton, issued a statement saying: "I welcome support from anyone in Congress who now recognizes the need to repeal the immunity Congress granted the gun industry in 2005."
The law, Schiff said, "was a serious mistake and has done tremendous damage to efforts to secure responsible business practices in the gun industry and to reduce gun violence."