In their ninth Democratic presidential debate on Thursday in Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton remained locked in a war of words on gun control and industry liability.
The two remaining contenders for their party’s nomination went back and forth over the economy, labor relations, the need for a national $15 per hour minimum wage and other social issues before moderator CNN’s Wolf Blitzer turned the topic to guns in America some 30 minutes into the debate.
Challenging Clinton on remarks made earlier this month blaming neighboring Vermont on the number of guns coming into New York, Blitzer asked the former Secretary of State, “Are you seriously blaming Vermont, and implicitly Senator Sanders, for New York’s gun violence?”
Clinton avoided the question at hand and said, “This is — this is a serious difference between us,” drawing laughter from the audience.
“It’s not a laughing matter — 90 people on average a day are killed or commit suicide or die in accidents from guns, 33,000 people a year,” said Clinton, repeating a mantra from earlier debates, which PolitiFact has in the past held up as being “mostly true” although it leaves unsaid some two-thirds of those deaths are suicides and that the number is the lowest since 1999. Everytown often echoes the same figure.
Clinton then moved into Sanders’ voting record on gun control legislation, holding up that he voted against the Brady Bill five times then lobbing, “He voted for the most important NRA priority, namely giving immunity from liability to gun-makers and dealers,” alluding to Sanders’ now-controversial 2005 vote in favor of passing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was designed to insulate the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits.
Saying PLCAA provides special protection for the industry, she blasted Sanders over his comments to hold Wall Street to task while quizzing, “Well, what about the greed and recklessness of gun manufacturers and dealers in America?”
In response, Sanders held up his D-rating from the National Rifle Association “before it was popular” as proof of his anti-gun credentials, then challenged Clinton to answer the original question about Vermont allegedly feeding New York’s crime problem with illegal guns.
Blitzer then asked Sanders pointedly about PLCAA protections as they apply to the current Sandy Hook lawsuit. Clinton has repeatedly pressed home that case in recent weeks via social media on the run-up to New York’s crucial Democratic Primary.
“Now, I voted against this gun liability law because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to be held accountable and be sued,” explained Sanders, walking in much the same track that he has held on the subject in prior debates which earned him scorn from Newtown victim’s groups but praise from the gun industry trade organization.
When Blitzer asked the Senator if he felt he owed the Sandy Hook families an apology, as some have asked for, Sanders was blunt, but seemed to waffle on their particular right to litigate.
“No, I don’t think I owe them an apology. They are in court today, and actually, they won a preliminary decision today. They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue,” he said.