For the entire 2016 election, voters have been subjected to an insistent narrative that Bernie Sanders is a model of progressive purity while Hillary Clinton is an unprincipled, calculating politician in the pocket of special interests. We strongly reject that false frame and have repeatedly argued that all politicians make difficult choices, some good, some not so good. Bernie isn’t exempt from that reality.


Bernie’s history on guns is hardly the model of progressive purity. During a recent Morning Joe appearance, he was defensive when asked to comment on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s assessment that on gun manufacturer immunity, Bernie made “a political decision on a moral issue.”

Cuomo:

“If you’re saying I’m going to put my finger in the wind and make the political advantageous choice and I’m going to be purely representative and do what my people want, fine. That’s what a lot of politicians do. But then don’t say you’re different.”

Here’s Bernie reacting on Morning Joe:


Bernie’s response is disingenuous: “In 1988, before I was elected to Congress I was in a race, three-way race, the gun lobby was against me [in] that race because I said in 1988 that we should not have assault weapons sold or distributed in this country… I lost that race because I said in 1988, let’s ban assault weapons in this country. So to keep attacking me, I think, is unfair.”

Disingenuous, because when Bernie ran again two years later, he’d learned his lesson. According to the Washington Post:

As a candidate in 1990, Sanders won over gun rights groups by promising to oppose one bill they hated — a measure that would establish a waiting period for handgun sales. In Congress, he kept that promise. The dynamic served as an early demonstration that, despite his pure-leftist persona, Sanders was at his core a pragmatic politician, calculating that he couldn’t win in rural Vermont without doing something for gun owners.

Bernie modulated his position, and the NRA decided to go after his Republican opponent Peter Smith, pouring money into ads opposing Smith, which they knew would benefit Bernie. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre endorsed Bernie, writing to members: “Bernie Sanders is a more honorable choice for Vermont sportsmen than Peter Smith.” It worked.

Bernie won. And he kept his word.

According to Correct the Record:

  • May 1991: Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill. [H R 7, Vote # 83, 5/8/91]
  • November 1991: Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill. [H R 3371, Vote #443, 11/26/91]
  • November 1993: Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill. [H R 1025, Vote #564, 11/10/93]
  • November 1993: Bernie Sanders voted against the final version of the Brady Bill. [H R 1025, Vote #614, 11/22/93]

Bernie Sanders voted for the Gekas Amendment to the Brady Bill. [H R 1025, Vote #559, 11/10/93; CQ Floor Votes, 11/10/93]

  • This three-day default proceed, also known as the Charleston loophole, allowed Dylan Roof to obtain a gun. [New York Times, 7/11/15]

Bernie Sanders opposed a seven-day waiting period for firearms purchases so gun owners wouldn’t “get caught up in a bureaucracy.” [Rutland Herald, 3/30/91]

Sanders voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms (PLCAA) in Arms Act which, “shields gun makers and dealers from most liability when their firearms are used criminally.” [Slate, 5/6/15, House Roll Call 534, 10/20/05]

And just today, on ABC News:

The NRA continues to express support for Bernie’s positions:

The final word goes to Amanda Marcotte:

There’s probably no industry that better epitomizes the way that corporate greed leads to ruined lives than the gun industry. That’s what the Sandy Hook lawsuit is about: The gun industry lobbies for weak restrictions and heavily markets guns to people with ugly power fantasies, which is why mass shootings happen so frequently in our country. But when given an opportunity to actually do something to hold major corporations responsible for their greed that leads to loss of lives, Sanders balks. It makes him seem like someone who talks a big game, but has no follow-through.

[Peter Daou contributed to this article.]

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)