With Sanders posing a real threat in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton is now going on the offensive, attacking him for his voting record on guns. It’s a sign of desperation. Let’s keep things in perspective.
The crucial choice in the 2016 presidential election is this: will we continue to have an oligarchy, or will we have a revolution to reinstate democracy. To be sure, there are many other issues Americans are passionate about, but the question of who has the power is the pre-eminent one. It’s crucial because it touches every other issue. Would getting money out of politics improve our ability to make progress on climate change, health care and education? On guns, even? Of course it would! Sanders’ single-mindedness about economic and political power is the issue that is driving his popularity.
Now, if you have been following mainstream news you know that the media has not exactly been focusing on the issue of power. They spend endless hours replaying the latest inane Trump-ism, or reciting the litany of a Clinton coronation.
The latest distraction in the Democratic race is guns. Sanders and Clinton have voting records that are remarkably similar. On guns, they both support enhanced background checks, closing the gun show loophole, prosecuting straw man purchases, and restrictions on assault weapons. Despite the similarity, a desperate Clinton campaign is now trying to use guns as a wedge issue.
When it really mattered, Senator Sanders voted with the gun lobby and I voted against the gun lobby. So this is a significant difference, and it’s important that, you know, maybe it’s time for Senator Sanders to stand up and say, ‘I got this one wrong.’ But he hasn’t.
— Hillary Clinton on Hardball, January 8, 2016
What Clinton is referring to is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, enacted in 2005. Sanders voted for it and Clinton voted against it. The context in which the bill was passed was that cities were suing gun manufacturers, attempting to hold them liable for gun-related injuries and deaths. This was essentially an attempt to achieve via lawsuits what had been impossible to achieve via legislation. If you could tie gun manufacturers up in court and get potentially massive judgments against them, you could bankrupt them and make gun-control legislation unnecessary.
The larger context is that the law affirms that citizens have an individual right to bear arms founded in the Second Amendment. One may agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, one may like it or dislike it, one may want to change it or not, but in the end there it is. It is legal to possess guns, and to buy and sell them.
If gun-control advocates want to regulate guns, or even make them illegal, that’s their prerogative. They can point to countries that disallow gun ownership and their relatively minuscule level of gun violence and emulate that. However, in seeking that level of gun regulation, they have their work cut out for them: Over 40% of Americans have a gun in the home, there are an estimated 357 million civilian-owned guns in circulation, and changing an amendment presents daunting hurdles.
Although the PLCAA protects gun manufacturers from product liability lawsuits, note that it does not protect them from liability for defective products. It implicitly recognizes that a properly functioning firearm is capable of inflicting injury and death, indeed that is what it is designed to do. A firearm is unlike any other product in that regard. Basically, the law prevents the manufacturer of a weapon from being held liable for its criminal use.
So Hillary Clinton is being disingenuous. It wasn’t a question of voting “with the gun lobby” or not. That’s her clever way of associating Sanders with the unpopular NRA.
Sanders should not say he got it wrong. He got it right! It may be possible to make some revisions in the law, to fine tune it, but the principle that a manufacturer or dealer is not liable for criminal acts committed using their legal, non-defective product is simply common sense.
There are policy changes that can be made to decrease gun violence that are legal and that are supported by a large majority of Americans, including gun owners. President Obama has just announced some of these common sense measures, which are supported by substantial majorities, including gun owners. However, there is not a similar consensus regarding product liability lawsuits and the PLCAA. Many people view such lawsuits as infringing a legal right, and are understandably angry about this attempted “end run” around the law.
It also happens that Sanders’ common sense approach on guns is more likely to be well received in the general election. Hillary’s “leftier than thou” approach appeals to a segment of Democratic primary voters; it is a wedge issue she’s trying to exploit, and it’s opportunistic. But if she were to end up being the nominee it would hurt her in the general election.
Obviously, gun control is an emotional issue, and an important issue, but it’s a distraction in the current election. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize: supplanting the oligarchy with a democracy. That is a revolution worth fighting for.