Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate gave Hillary Clinton the necessary boost she desperately needed to propel her campaign ahead of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. While her fiery passion was ignited in her responses on Tuesday, what really helped her outshine Sanders was her takedown of the candidate’s views and policy record on gun control. Sanders is liberal on almost every issue — except guns — and with the epidemic of gun violence sparking national controversy, his moderate stance could eventually be the populist’s downfall.
When asked if Sanders was tough enough on guns, Clinton took the chance to tear down her rival and responded that the senator isn’t strict with gun legislation.
“We have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day to gun violence,” Clinton said. “This has gone on for too long, and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA,” Her candid reply was met with an astounding round of applause.
“All the shouting in the world is not going to do what all of us want and that is keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have those guns,” Sanders fired back.
“We can raise our voices, but I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not,” Sanders later responded. “Our job is to bring people together around strong, commonsense gun legislation. I think there is a vast majority in this country who want to do the right thing, and I intend to lead the country in bringing our people together.”
Sanders’ position on guns is his ultimate weak spot — and Clinton is taking full advantage of his controversial stance.
Governing a rural state with a high level of gun ownership, Sanders struggles with capturing the Democratic consensus on gun control.
He defended his position by arguing that leading a rural state where hunting is huge, he has to follow with his constituents.
Yet former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley spat back that the rural versus urban rhetoric Sanders was trying to capitalize on just wouldn’t cut it.
“We were able to pass this and still respect the hunting tradition of people who live in our rural areas,” O’Malley said. “We did it by leading with principle. Not by pandering to the NRA and backing down.”
While Sanders proudly reminded the other candidates of his D-minus NRA rating, Sanders mixed gun record still makes him an easy target for his Democratic opponents.
He opposed the Brady bill — voting against it five times from 1991 to 1993 — which required background checks on firearms, but supported background checks for all firearms purchases at gun shows in 1999 and supported expanding background checks in 2013.
Yet Sanders supported legislation that protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits over misusing firearms, eradicating gun sellers’ accountability in shootings.
"For this immunity provision, I voted against it," Clinton said during the debate. "I was in the Senate at the same time. 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."
Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs touted Sanders' ongoing fight for stricter gun control to Politifact — banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines carrying 10 rounds.
His mixed views arise from leading a state where gun owners primarily want to keep their weapons for sport.
"(Sanders’) gun control position is a reflection of living in Vermont for 40 years. Vermonters use guns to shoot deer and moose, not one another," Garrison Nelson, a political science professor science at the University of Vermont, told Politifact.
Sanders is torn between keeping his constituents happy and representing the right perspective for the majority of Democrats — in which 71 percent demand stricter gun legislation, according to Gallup.
Yet his strong allegiance to Vermont voters might be what costs him as Tuesday’s debate proves.
Banner photo credit: Gage Skidmore