Last week presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that would repeal legislation that he voted for in 2005. Sanders, a self-described “socialist,” ranks as the most progressive senator according to GovTrack’s ideology scores, but there is one issue on which he hasn’t been the most liberal Member of Congress: guns. And presidential nomination rival Hillary Clinton has attacked a vote Sanders cast in 2005 shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits when their products are used in crimes.
S. 2469, “A bill to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” was introduced last week by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). (A related bill in the House, H.R. 4399, the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, was introduced the same day by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA28).) The legislation is a mere one sentence long and would completely repeal the now decade-old bill at issue.
The original bill passed with strong bipartisan majorities in both chambers, 283–144 in the House and 65–31 in the Senate, though then-senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Joe Biden (D-DE) all voted no (and all began presidential campaigns a year later). Sanders, who represented Vermont with the highest percentage of gun ownership in the northeast, voted yes.
Over the subsequent decade, sentiment among Democrats in particular turned almost unanimously against the bill, due to mass shooting events such as Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, and San Bernardino. Outcry was also raised after it was reported that two victims of the Aurora shooting may have to pay $220,000 in legal fees to two businesses that sold the killer James Holmes his guns.
Sanders had long justified his vote on the 2005 bill, as recently as a few months ago, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper “If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and the murderer kills somebody with a gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beats somebody over the head with a hammer.” While some have labeled the change of mind an act of political opportunism, the Sanders campaign insists he reconsidered after meeting with gun control activists from the Brady Campaign and speaking with victims of gun violence.
The Senate and House repeal bill have 10 and 39 co-sponsors, respectively — no Republicans among them. The National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to support the original law, arguing that it was necessary to “save the American firearms industry from collapse under the burden of these ruinous and politically motivated lawsuits” and “creates judicial uniformity in all courts across the United States.”