- Lucas Jackson/Reuters
- Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the first night of the Democratic debate in Detroit, Michigan, pointed to his low ratings with the National Rifle Association (NRA) as evidence of his pro-gun control credentials.
- But Sanders has a more complicated record on guns then he let on.
- The Vermont lawmaker in the past voted against major pieces of gun legislation, including the 1993 Brady Bill.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday night touted his low ratings with the National Rifle Association (NRA) as purported evidence of his long pro-gun control record.
“I have a D-minus rating from the NRA … Back in 1988, coming from a state that had no gun control, I called for the ban of the sale and distribution of assault weapons. I lost that election,” he said.
While it’s true the NRA endorsed Sanders’ opponent in 1988 as a campaign for a seat in Vermont’s House, it’s hard to measure how much that hurt him overall. Moreover, the Vermont senator has a mixed record on guns.
The NRA supported Sanders in 1990, with Wayne LaPierre – a longtime NRA figure and its current CEO – describing the democratic socialist as “a more honorable choice for Vermont sportsmen” than the GOP incumbent Peter Smith.
Sanders also has a history of voting against gun control legislation. When Sanders was still in the US House of Representatives in 1993, he voted against the Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases.
Sanders in 2003 and 2005 also voted in favor of a bill (that became law in 2005) to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits.
Over the years Sanders has at times championed the view that states should have as much discretion as possible when it comes to gun laws and he’s also expressed doubt over how much gun control laws can prevent tragedies.
Sanders in 2013 said, “If you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen.”
The Vermont senator did vote in favor of the assault weapons ban included in a controversial 1994 crime bill, which contained language Sanders vehemently opposed. He’s also in more recent years co-sponsored bills to make it harder for domestic abusers to get firearms, expand background checks, and ban assault weapons, among other gun-related legislation.
As the US has become more pro-gun control, Sanders positions on the issue appear to have shifted.
“We must end the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” Sanders tweeted on Monday, and said if he’s elected president he vows to take on the NRA, expand background checks, end the gun show loophole, and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons.