Sanders reverses position on gun liability

MONTPELIER — Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to co-sponsor legislation in the Senate that would remove blanket immunity for gun makers, a reversal from Sanders’ original vote in Congress that his Democratic presidential primary rival Hillary Clinton has used against him.

Sanders, who is running neck-and-neck with Clinton in Iowa and leading her in New Hampshire, voted for a law in 2005 that shields gun manufacturers from liability in gun deaths.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced legislation this week to repeal that blanket immunity and allow shooting victims to sue. Sanders’ Senate office confirmed Thursday that he will co-sponsor the bill.

Clinton has used Sanders’ 2005 vote for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to bludgeon Sanders with, attacking him for siding with the gun lobby. Clinton has released campaign ads stating that she will fight the gun lobby, insinuating that Sanders has helped gun makers.

Sanders’ campaign released a statement earlier this month indicating that he would support the legislation.

“I’m pleased that this legislation is being introduced,” Sanders said in the statement. “As I have said for many months now, we need to look at the underlying law and tighten it up.”

Sanders defended himself against Clinton’s attacks by saying his vote for the 2005 law was in support of other provisions in the bill, including requiring safety locks on guns and a ban on armor-piercing ammunition.

“Those were important provisions that I did support,” he said in the Jan. 16 statement.

Sanders also said his vote in 2005 was to protect small gun stores in rural areas like Vermont from liability. He plans to offer an amendment to the Senate bill to require the Commerce Department to monitor and report on the law’s impact in rural areas on the availability of hunting supplies, including firearms sold by local gun stores that comply with existing law.

“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. So I’m pleased to support the legislation and should it come up for consideration I would work to make sure it includes a provision that allows us to monitor its impact so that we may determine if it is having any unintended consequences,” Sanders said.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence claimed responsibility for Sanders’ reversal Thursday, noting it came one day after its supporters went to Sanders office “to demand action.” Brady Campaign President Dan Gross issued a statement Thursday noting the campaign’s pressure.

“This great victory is proof of what can happen when the public holds politicians accountable – which is happening on the gun violence prevention issue like never before. Senator Sanders has defended his checkered record on gun safety very comfortably until very recently – until the American people held his feet to the fire,” he said. “They knocked on his door and flooded his office with phone calls demanding action. And Sanders finally took notice. His next step must be to champion this legislation in Congress.”

Gross said gun safety is playing a “make-or-break” role in the presidential campaign.

“Americans have had enough, and they’re taking to task any politician who stands in the way of sensible, life-saving reform,” he said. “We thank Senator Sanders for co-sponsoring the repeal of a truly evil piece of special interest legislation. However, cosponsoring a bill means more than simply signing a piece of paper — Senator Sanders now has an obligation to lead the effort to force a vote in the Senate and usher this bill to final passage.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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