Bernie Sanders tries to clarify his position on guns

As the US lurches from one mass shooting to another, Bernie Sanders has been criticized for not taking a more hardline stance against guns and this has made him speak out more and try and make his position clearer. He used a speech yesterday in Boulder, Colorado and recent TV appearances to do so.

Sanders has come under scrutiny since the shooting dead of nine people at Umpqua community college in Roseburg, Oregon on 1 October returned gun control to the headlines. The state he represents as an independent senator, Vermont, has some of the most lax gun control laws in the country. As his rivals in both parties have pointed out, his voting record on gun control legislation is varied.

In 1993, for example, when in the House of Representatives, he voted against the so-called Brady bill, which mandated federal background checks.

In Boulder, Sanders said there was “widespread support to ban semi-automatic assault weapons – guns which have no other purpose but to kill people”.

“I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. And yet, at political peril, I voted for an instant background check, which I want to see strengthened and expanded. I voted to ban certain types of assault weapons which are designed only to kill people. I voted to end the so-called gun show [purchase] loophole.

Sanders was also questioned about his vote in the House in 2005 for a law that protects, to some extent, gun manufacturers from liability over deaths from gun violence. The National Rifle Association – which does not grade Sanders highly – supported that law. It also funded a campaign against Sanders’ opponent in a 1990 House race that he won by 20 points.

“That was a complicated vote and I’m willing to see changes in that provision,” Sanders said of the 2005 law.

“Here’s the reason I voted the way I voted. If you are a gun shop owner in Vermont and you sell somebody a gun and that person flips out and then kills somebody, I don’t think it’s really fair to hold that person responsible, the gun shop owner.

“On the other hand, where there is a problem is there is evidence that … gun manufacturers do know they’re selling a whole lot of guns in an area that really should not be buying that many guns … probably for criminal purposes.

“So can we take another look at that liability issue? Yes.”

Meanwhile Saturday Night Live had a nice ad on America’s love affair with guns.


  1. atheistblog says

    First thing Even liberals accuse as problem is ‘mental illness’, somehow only americans in the world are more mentally ill and the rest of the world are living a idyllic life, but when american exceptionalism kicks in, america is the best country to live, americans are the best noble people, and the world’s most loving and peaceful religion is christianity . These people are the perfect example of orwell’s doublethinking.

  2. atheistblog says

    Bernie has one flip flop and he accepts his flip flop, this one is just ok flip flop even though not a good one, but another one of his flip flop is really bad one, his foreign policy, and supporting apartheid state, why he changed from good to bad on that one ?
    Well, looks like he learned a lesson on how to flip flop from the queen of flip flopper hillary.

  3. kyoseki says

    Assault weapons bans do nothing other than score political points.

    “widespread support to ban semi-automatic assault weapons – guns which have no other purpose but to kill people”.

    You know what class of guns have no other purpose but to kill people? Handguns, nearly all of them. You don’t hunt with handguns, you don’t generally shoot recreationally with handguns, handguns are there almost exclusively for killing people.. oh, sorry, I mean “self defense”.

    You know what an assault weapon is? It’s a scaled up handgun, it’s a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine rather than a semiautomatic handgun with a detachable magazine, the only difference between the two is that rifles are more accurate at long range and have better penetration against armored targets, neither of which matters in a mass shooting situation (which is ostensibly the reason for banning their sale).

    The UK banned ALL semiautomatic rifles (not just assault weapons) after the Hungerford massacre in 1987, the next guy used handguns and killed more people. The deadliest mass shooting in US history (Virginia Tech) used two handguns (and relatively small magazines -- 10&15 round capacity).

    Anyone who seriously thinks that banning “assault weapons” (which is really just a term that means “semi auto rifle with a pistol grip”) will save lives simply hasn’t bothered to either read the goddamned bills or is delusional about their effectiveness.

    Which brings me to the second point, assault weapons bans are really just pistol grip bans, they’re not concerned with functionality, only appearance -- California’s had an assault weapons ban for the past 30 years, it doesn’t stop you buying an AR-15, it just means the AR-15 doesn’t have it’s signature pistol grip. It’s the same goddamned gun, it just looks odd -- either that, or you fit it with a “bullet button” which gets around the “detachable magazine” language in the bill and so allows you to leave the gun in it’s “evil black rifle” state, but the gun can still be reverted to full functionality in about 30 seconds with a screwdriver.

    If you need any more evidence that assault weapons bills do absolutely nothing, consider that even the newest one proposed after Sandy Hook was primarily concerned with appearance and not functionality. It had giant lists of guns that were considered valid hunting/sporting weapons, want to know what was on that list? This one;

    That is a Ruger Mini 14 and according to Feinstein’s bill, that is NOT an assault weapon (ok, sure, the bayonet isn’t legal, but as far as I’m aware, nobody he killed was stabbed). That gun is EXPLICITLY protected in Feinstein’s bill as a valid hunting/sporting weapon because it doesn’t have a pistol grip.

    The Ruger Mini 14 is a semiautomatic centerfire rifle chambered in 5.56mm fed by a detachable box magazine.
    The AR-15 is a semiautomatic centerfire rifle chambered in 5.56mm fed by a detachable box magazine.

    These two guns are functionally IDENTICAL, but because assault weapons bills don’t actually consider function, only appearance, only the one with a pistol grip is considered an assault weapon.

    This is like trying to combat speeding by banning Ferraris, but explicitly protecting Porsches.

  4. kyoseki says

    Ok, that was a little stream of consciousness.

    I guess is that what I’m saying is that assault weapons bills are effectively designed purely to score political points rather than do anything useful.

    They don’t ban guns based on how dangerous they are, they ban them based on how dangerous they look.
    Even if they banned them based on how dangerous they are, they explicitly ignore handguns which are an absolute plague on society.

    The ready availability of handguns (combined with the fact that you don’t have to earn the right to own one) is the source of America’s gun violence problem, you can ban assault weapons if you like, it won’t change the body count of the next mass shooting and it annoys me that someone like Bernie Sanders would think that this was worth spending time & political capital on.

  5. Rob says

    Kyoseki, you are (at least appear to be) talking about the current state of play in America only. As far as that goes you have a very valid point. You do appear to be placing blame for the ineffectiveness of those passing the assault weapon bans on those who are passing the bills, rather than those who fight against the ban so hard that it results on the bans being watered down to not much more than symbolic tinkering.
    In my country we have had few mass shootings. In the worst 13 victims were killed, four by a type 56 semi-automatic. This resulted in a ban on military style semi-automatics (MSSA), defined as a self-loading rifle or shotgun with one or more of the following features:
    Folding or telescopic butt
    Magazine that holds, or has appearance of holding, more than 15 cartridges for .22 rimfire
    Magazine that holds, or has appearance of holding, more than 7 cartridges for others
    Bayonet lug
    Military pattern free standing pistol grip
    Flash suppressor

    We have not a mass public shooting since. People who have a legitimate need for such weapons can still get them, but an enhanced gun licence is required along with an approved requirement for the weapon type which also forms a part of the licence. It is an offence to fire an MSSA without the approved licence or when not undertaking the activity for which the licence was granted.
    It’s worth pointing out that around 5% of our total population hold a gun licence (almost non for MSSA) with around 1 gun for every four in the population. The take home being that if you want a weapon for hunting or target practice it’s easy. If you want a weapon that looks tough and would contribute to being able to kill a lot of people more quickly, that can be made hard and no-one cares (here at least).

  6. kyoseki says

    Rob: If you’re using the term MSSA, I’m assuming you’re either Australian or New Zealand, since those are the only countries I’m aware of that use it -- and I actually prefer the term because it’s far less inflammatory than “assault weapon”.

    … and yes, I’m referring entirely to the US, which is kind of unique in the western world at having such a high rate of firearms ownership without mandatory national service (like Switzerland, for example).

    US assault weapons bans legislation is worded entirely to try to outlaw the military looking semi automatic rifles without impacting the semi automatic rifles that are used for hunting which really comes down to cosmetic differences -- the actual dangerous part is the magazine size and the fact that they’re detachable, which is usually completely apart from the actual assault weapons legislation itself.

    If you examine any assault weapons legislation, you’ll see that 90% of it is concerned with cosmetic details, specifically because the people writing it want to avoid angering the hunting lobby, but the simple fact is that from a functional standpoint, there’s no real difference between an assault weapon and a hunting rifle. Semi automatic rifles chambered in 5.56 are actually used pretty frequently when it comes to hunting wild boar (which is why the Norway shooter was able to buy one), they’re not suitable for hunting deer or defense against bears because the cartridge isn’t powerful enough.

    If you want to write assault weapons legislation, or rather, if you wanted to write legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons and anything that approaches their level of lethality, your entire bill would define an assault weapon as “a semiautomatic centerfire rifle equipped with or readily capable of accepting a detachable magazine”.

    That’s it, one sentence, if the bill is any longer than that, it’s a fair bet that it’s trying to walk the line between scoring political points and pissing off enough people that it won’t get passed -- there was actually a bill here in California that tried to outlaw all semi auto rifles last year, but I don’t think it even made it out of the legislature and to the governor’s desk. It certainly never made it into law.

    … which is kind of the problem with this legislation, anything that might be even close to effective is going to be unpopular enough to fail to pass the legislature and even if it makes it into law, it’s unlikely to survive a constitutional challenge.

  7. julian says

    On the other hand, where there is a problem is there is evidence that … gun manufacturers do know they’re selling a whole lot of guns in an area that really should not be buying that many guns … probably for criminal purposes. -- Senator Sanders

    This doesn’t make any sense. 1) You can buy a gun in a “low crime” area and then transport it into one with little difficulty. 2) Most spree killers don’t come “low crime” areas. 3) This sounds a lot like a euphemism for black and poc areas. 4) Most spree killers don’t use more than one or two weapons. 5) There is no way you could coherently put this into law and have it not be abused in the same way Stop and Frisk has been.

    Honestly, like with his stance on prison reform I have to wonder if Sanders really is foolish enough to think these recommendations will help or if he’s just trying to appeal to the type of liberal who hasn’t looked into these issues. I’m assuming it’s the latter but, really, neither make me want to support him.

  8. atheistblog says

    The problem with american politics and even people is that the moderate, somewhat reasonable position is not demanding guns shouldn’t be a right, but banning weapons which were used in a massacre and discussed in the for-profit media.
    Is this a reasonable position in US ? And whenever bernie use the words like “stop shouting at each other”, like those who ask that guns shouldn’t be a right are as equally stupid, immoral as gun nuts, is just appalling. Proliferation of unrestricted unregulated guns, any guns, is not moral value in any civil society. He wouldn’t dare to say that Black Lives Matter should stop shouting at each other, it will take us to nowhere, but he is so condescending by telling us that we should “stop shouting at each other” and equating us to gun nutters ? If you translate his words “stop shouting at each other”, all it means is

    “shut up, I am a gun supporter, but some of these damn people kill 10, 20 people, as long as they keep it below 4 or 3, if it doesn’t appear on for-profit media, i don’t have to bother about my love for guns, now I have to give false solutions like, its all about mental illness, its only those assault rifles, it’s only those back ground checks, once we address only those, which won’t touch the profit of the gun manufacturers, and affect any gun nutters of this country, then we all will be living in civil societies like rest of the world, so you better shut up”

    There is no F-in single politicians in this country to say it is immoral that guns are a right in this nation.

  9. doublereed says

    The only reason the NRA is so powerful is the corruption of our politics. Money in politics is basically the only issue in politics. And he’s the only big candidate who takes a strong stance on that issue.

    It’s not like his stance on guns matters until we lessen the corruption. We can’t have an honest conversation currently so who cares.

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