March 15, 2019 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Guns of Bernie Sanders

Too few know of his vote for "gun manufacturer immunity."

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I want to speak today about my feelings about Bernie Sanders. I have in the past talked about his political liabilities. He’s still not a Democrat. That matters to Democrats. He’s refuses to admit that Russian propagandists paved the way for his second run. These are serious drawbacks that may end up scuttling his bid for the presidency.

But neither, I would argue, should scuttle it.

In both cases, one can rationalize his behavior. He’s too old to get why railing against “identity politics” offends a lot of Democrats. He’s too proud to admit that the Russians helped him in 2016 and are helping again. Arrogance and pride are not wholly disqualifying, I think. If they were, no one would ever be president.

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There is something that should disqualify him from the nomination, in my view, or it should if he does not come forward to Democratic voters, especially new and young voters, with the proper amount of transparency, honesty and penitence. As things stand, Sanders appears willing to allow young people to believe what they want to believe about him without properly informing them of the facts. You could say Bernie Sanders is too old or too pride. You can’t say he’s above fraud. Not yet.

Last year, Sanders’ office posted a video of his meeting with teenagers from Parkland, Fla. Two weeks prior, they survived one of the worst massacres in US history. The video features a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She says the status quo is intolerable. She says in effect the more politicians talk, the less they do.

“But we have a power now,” Delaney Tarr says, rightly and eloquently. “We all have a power now to keep pointing out their stances, to keep addressing the issue so that they don’t have the ability to stay quiet and get away with not addressing it.”

Then comes Sanders, on his meeting with the Parkland teens:

What was amazingly impressive about these young people is that in the midst of their grief, in the midst of the unbelievably traumatic experience that they went through, seeing their best friends shot in cold blood and wounded, their teachers killed, they resolved not just to mourn and grieve their friends and neighbors, they resolved to stand up and fight back.

This must have been a momentous day for the Parkland teens.

They were fighting an evil system. The Republicans. The NRA. The gun makers. The gun sellers. Apathy and injustice. Sanders, as far as they knew, was doing the same. He fought an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment. He lost, but he lived to fight another day. They were all Davids battling all the Goliaths.

But something was missing.

It’s hard to imagine the Parkland teens seeing a comrade-in-arms in Sanders if they knew about his voting record on guns rights and gun control. It’s hard to imagine their finding common cause with the Vermont senator if they knew of his role in shielding gun makers and gun sellers from civil suits that attempted the hold them responsible for the injury they cause. Because it is so hard to imagine, it begs the question: Do they know? If they don’t know, why? Is it because Bernie Sanders didn’t tell them?

In the 1980s, families of victims of gun violence won some relief by suing gun stores that sold guns to killers. By the 1990s, cities and counties, following their lead, involved gun manufacturers. Pemy Levy, of Mother Jones, has the long story: “On October 30, 1998, New Orleans became the first city to file suit against a gun manufacturer. A few weeks later, Chicago became the second. … Within a year, 30 cities and counties had filed suits against more than 40 gun manufacturers.”

By autumn 2005, Levy wrote, New York prepared “a mammoth lawsuit against 14 gun manufacturers and 27 distributors and dealers. The suit set out to prove that the gun industry bore a responsibility for the volume of guns illegally trafficked into the city.”

The ultimate goal of the litigation was to force the industry to oversee its supply chain—to exercise “reasonable care” by taking steps that could preclude a foreseeable harm to others—and help cut off easy access to guns for straw purchasers and traffickers.

By October, it was over.

That’s when the US Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. It shielded gun makers and gun sellers from tort claims. The bill passed shortly after George W. Bush allowed a federal ban on assault weapons to expire. The combined events launched a new bloody era in US history. Since 2012, according to data collected by the New York’s Brennan Center for Justice, “there have been at least 1,981 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, with at least 2,361 killed and 8,152 wounded.”

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Until recently, Sanders defended his vote to give gun makers and gun sellers immunity from tort claims on the grounds that people who make things should not be held responsible for what bad people do with those things. In 2016, he said: “Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer? No, I don’t.”

Chris Murphy, Connecticut’s junior senator, said at the time the Democratic Party can’t nominate a supporter of “gun manufacturer immunity.” It didn’t, and a year later, Sanders joined Murphy introducing a bill to repeal the law’s immunity provisions.

I’m fine with that kind of flip-flopping. Sanders is changing his mind, saying an evil thing is evil, even if he’s doing it for political reasons. But the fact remains that he has not taken responsibility for his role in the bloody era between 2005 and today. You could say it’s unfair. Indeed, that’s what Sanders has said. But this isn’t about fair. This is partisan politics. Democrats oppose everything Sanders voted to protect. He wants to lead the party? OK. Then he must tell everyone, including the teenagers who venerate him, what he has done, why it was wrong, and what he plans to do about it.

Sanders might be too proud to admit the Russians helped him. He might be too arrogant to understand why “identity politics” is offensive to some Democrats. But if these prevent explaining his immunity vote to new and young voters, with the proper amount of transparency, honesty and penitence, then we’ll know he’s a fraud.

That’s how I feel about Bernie Sanders.

—John Stoehr

Good news for Sandy Hook families!

The families of 6-year-old kids slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than six years ago may finally see some relief now that the Connecticut Supreme Court has allowed a lawsuit against gun manufacturers to move forward. The suit hopes to find a way around the federal law Sanders voted for in 2005. Since the 2012 massacre, nearly 2,000 people have been killed in mass shootings around the country.



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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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