ARLINGTON, Va. — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders defended his record on gun control at a progressive policy forum here Thursday night, facing off with an activist who criticized his U.S. Senate vote to shield gun manufacturers from lawsuits.
During a question-and-answer session, Honora Laszlo — a volunteer for the Arlington chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — asked the Vermont senator to explain his stance.
Sanders noted that he comes “from a state where tens and tens of thousands of people hunt and do target practice.” He then told Laszlo that, despite Vermont’s gun culture, he cast politically-perilous votes for an assault weapons ban, background checks for gun purchases and stricter regulations on gun shows.
“With all due respect, you also cast the vote to allow gun manufacturers to never be sued,” the activist replied.
“Yes, you’re right. That’s how I voted,” the senator said. “Because if somebody has a gun, and somebody steals that gun and they shoot somebody, do you really think it makes sense to blame the manufacturer of that weapon?”
Laszlo started to say, “Yes, and I’ll tell you why,” but Sanders pressed on.
“The point is that if somebody sells you a baseball bat and you hit somebody over the head, you’re not going to sue the baseball bat manufacturer,” he said.
Addressing Laszlo directly, Sanders made the case for “some give on both sides” of the gun debate to help bridge the massive cultural divide over the issue.
“In my state, you know what people would say to you?” he asked. “They would say, ‘What do you have against me? What have I ever done wrong because I’ve taken my kids into the woods and gone hunting?'”
Concluding the exchange on gun manufacturers, Sanders said definitively, “I don’t apologize for that vote.”
Thursday night wasn’t the first time Sanders faced criticism from liberals over gun control. A Super PAC supporting rival White House hopeful Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic governor of Maryland, recently released a video calling the senator “no progressive” on the issue.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has made a call for stricter gun laws part of her standard stump speech. The Washington Post called that decision “a sign that the political environment on guns has shifted in the wake of recent mass shootings — and of Clinton’s determination to stake out liberal ground in her primary race against insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders.”
Recent polling of early primary states showed Clinton with a strong lead in the Democratic field, but Sanders garnered about a quarter of the vote or more in the surveys. He’s the only Clinton alternative who appears to be gaining traction with Democrats at this point, drawing large crowds that suggest his campaign has some momentum.