It has been touted by the mainstream media and the pundits that Bernie Sanders is a “gun-nut”, out of step with the Democratic base. In addition, the Hillary Clinton campaign has alleged that he is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association (NRA). A closer look, however, shows us that both these charges are not only false, but that Sanders would be the candidate most gun-reform minded voters should vote for.
Hillary’s own website shows that on most grounds, Clinton and Sanders mostly agree on gun violence and its prevention. Both want to close the Charleston and ‘gun show’ loopholes. Both want to “Keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill.” They both now agree on repealing the blanket legal immunity provided to gun manufacturers including on equipment malfunctions, though Sanders maintains that a manufacturer should not be held responsible for the actions of a gun buyer who legally purchased that weapon.
This, it appears that the only time Secretary Clinton has been to the left of Sanders on guns has been the Brady Bill, which Sanders voted against because while it introduced background checks, he had promised his constituents in rural Vermont that he would not vote for background checks unless they were instant — something the bill did not carry and Sanders pleaded for. The charge the Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times tells us less of Sanders’ proximity to the gun lobby than it does of the unwillingness of party leaderships to incorporate that provision — and push for meaningful legislative change and go forward. Sanders did not vote against background checks, as much as for instant background checks, insisting that be included. It turns out that Secretary Clinton is willing to go no further than Sanders on gun regulation. Barring holding a referendum to repeal the Second Amendment, there is no way to be to the left of Sanders in any concrete and legal way other than simply speculatively.
In addition, some aspects of the Sanders platform show a path forward through the swamp of a Congressional stranglehold the NRA has — proving him to be potentially far more likely and capable of meaningful gun reform:
1. Sanders’ NRA rating has most recently been D minus. His history as a politician shows out of 9 scores, five have been F - the remainder a D plus, a D, a C minus, and a D minus. Clinton has only one score, from 2006, an F. However, the Clinton couple’s record in Arkansas involves hardly any push for gun regulation.
2. He's never taken money from the NRA and its lobbyists. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has directly taken money from the NRA, as well as been at fundraisers organized and attended by major NRA lobbyists and donors.
3. Sanders has stood consistently on his stance towards guns: instant background checks, assault weapons bans, legislation for safety locks and a ban on armor piercing bullets. Especially considering the lack of NRA monetary influence on Sanders, he is more likely to stick to his stance on guns than the Secretary. Hillary has been on both the left and right on all this – most notably when she postured herself to the right of then-Senator Obama, prompting him to brand her as “Annie Oakley”. There is no reason to trust her current more-left-than-Bernie stance.
4. He has always been against US global arms dealing and the regular policies of the military-industrial complex-led State dept. We can find him railing against the military-industrial complex and echoing President Eisenhower even backing in the 1980s when he was a mayor in Vermont. The Clinton foundation and State Department-brokered arms deals have paid off well for the gun lobby — especially companies such as Remington and Boeing. It turns out that nearly every beneficiary of an arms deal with the US during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State donated millions to the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative during the same period.
5. Sanders will ban corporate lobbyists and corporate contributions to politicians, Congress, Capitol Hill and the Oval Office. He has indicated that the gun lobby can't have it both ways — legal immunity as well as lobbying politicians in an unfettered manner. This change itself will be a monumental shift in the policy of the American state — something no other politician including Clinton is offering.
6. Sanders is the only candidate who has the potential to split the NRA base, especially rural, with his common-sense gun proposals, in which he protects guns for hunting purposes — while also tackling urban and suburban gun violence, including campus shootings and police shootings of unarmed African American men (why shouldn’t we include these cases in gun violence too?).
Hillary Clinton is only offering short-term promises she knows she won't pass. Clintonian policy has historically been one of political opportunism, consolidating their rule rather than being agents of change. Gun legislation passing or not passing would make no difference to the Clinton as long as they’re on top. Hillary has been highlighting guns as her handlers are of the opinion that it would prove to be Sanders’ Achilles heel.
Common sense gun legislation, however, WILL pass if contributions and lobbying by the NRA, corporations and Super PACs are banned. Sanders is offering a government run for the interests of the people, adhering to the popular will of the people and not billionaires on the issues.
The author is a research scholar in modern history at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.