As Democrats go to the polls today in the New York primary, Bernie Sanders has paid a dear political price for his views on gun control, and his initial reaction to a lawsuit brought by family of the survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre against an assault weapons manufacturer.
“Bernie Sanders’ views on guns are inconsistent with those of New York Democratic party primary voters,” claimed Manhattan-based Democratic Strategist Hank Sheinkopf in an email to The National Memo. “The Clinton campaign in ads and rhetoric has effectively used Sanders’ gun positions to blunt his appeals to minority voters, who are disproportionately gun crime victims.”
Clinton, the former Secretary of State and former senator from New York, has positioned herself well to the left of the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont on gun issues. She has called Sanders a “reliable” supporter of the National Rifle Association and repeatedly slammed him for voting for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 bill passed by Congress which gives gun manufacturers immunity from liability should a lawfully purchased gun be used illegally. (Clinton has said she would work to repeal the bill if elected.)
But during a heated debate with Clinton in Brooklyn last Thursday, Sanders reversed his earlier position on a lawsuit brought by nine family members of children murdered at Sandy Hook and a teacher who was wounded when Adam Lanza went on his shooting spree at the school in Newtown, Conn., armed with an AR-15 assault rifle.
“They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue,” Sanders said.
Last week, a Superior Court judge in Connecticut denied a motion by lawyers for Bushmaster Fire Arms International, the rifle’s manufacturer, to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing the litigation to continue.
Meanwhile, Clinton surrogates continue to paint Sanders as a callous shill of the gun lobby, noting that he voted against the Brady Bill five times.
“(Sanders) doesn’t have the sensitivity he needs to the horror that is happening in these families,” opined Kristen Gillibrand, junior senator from upstate New York during an interview Monday with Glenn Thrush in his Off Message podcast for Politico. “I just don’t think he’s fully getting how horrible it is for these families,” she added.
Thrush wrote in an article after recording the podcast that he was surprised by Gillibrand’s accusations, given her past as a conservative Blue Dog Democrat and former upstate member of the House who once held a 100 percent rating from the NRA and kept a shotgun under her bed. He questioned whether her conversion to the strict gun control orthodoxy of many liberal states was one of “the shot gun variety” — a marriage of expediency resulting from her appointment in 2009 by then Gov. David Paterson to take over Clinton’s vacated senate seat. But he also noted that she is a passionate Clinton backer and a feminist, one who now believes that strict gun control is a women’s issue.
David McReynolds, a well-known 86-year-old socialist and pacifist who lives in Manhattan’s East Village and has run for president twice on third party tickets, unsuccessfully, was appalled by Gillibrand’s claims about Sanders, whom he intends to vote for today. “I think that reading is outrageous — it makes him sound like he doesn’t give damn,” McReynolds said in a telephone conversation. “I can’t imagine Bernie being indifferent to the slaughter of school kids.”
McReynolds noted Sanders currently has a “D-minus” grade from the NRA and has voted for a ban on assault weapons. But he did denounce his comments on guns during the Brooklyn debate last week as “weak” and believes he got “caught on the horns of a dilemma: I think he got mousetrapped.”
New York State assembly member Deborah Glick is a strong Clinton supporter whose 66th assembly district covers Greenwich Village. She too says Sanders has been hurt by his views on guns. “I hope he has,” she added, claiming that Sanders has contributed to the image that he’s callous about the subject. “He’s been very abrupt when asked questions about it and that comes across to many people as unfeeling or uncaring,” she told this reporter. “I don’t know if he was irritated. He does have a bit of a short fuse. He was curt and that comes across as unsympathetic to what was a horrifying and shocking moment.”
As for the lawsuit, Glick observed the plaintiffs “aren’t suing to end gun manufacturing. They’re suing because it is their contention that intentionally marketing military style weapons to a young demographic is dangerous to society. They’re putting profits before people which would seem to be inconsistent with Sanders’ mantra.”
Glick touted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s work banning assault weapons in New York shortly after he was elected.
Sanders may have shot himself in the foot when he was asked during a tense April 1 interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News if victims of gun violence should sue gun makers. “No, I don’t,” he said in his characteristically blunt manner. He then added, “But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people.”
Arthur Schwartz, a prominent labor lawyer who served as counsel for Sanders’s New York City campaign, doesn’t believe guns are a big issue for his candidate. “I think Hillary periodically jumps on the issue. I think Hillary has found a good line. But Bernie Sanders has successfully convinced everybody that he isn’t a friend of gun manufacturers and the NRA.”
Photo: Activists hold a protest and vigil against gun violence on the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, outside the National Rifle Association (NRA) headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia December 14, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst