Self-described Democratic-Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s now running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president, has been characterized as one of the most liberal members of Congress, due to his socialistic-like economic views and his safe territory in Vermont, a heavily blue state.
However, few know about the state politics of Vermont; for example, many state residents are hunters and carry firearms without permits, with state law stating that this is legal. According to the Washington Post, “Other Democrats from the state, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy and former governor Howard Dean, have also sought the middle ground on guns.”
This “middle ground” stance is surprising, since it is not what Sanders is known for. However, the longtime Vermont politician voted against the Brady Bill in 1993, which would have required background checks for all gun purchases. Sanders also has an interesting relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA), with some crediting the organization for Sanders’s first electoral victory in 1991.
“There was absolutely no doubt in that ’90 vote that the NRA got (Sanders) elected, and he owed them,” Chris Graff, a former employer of the Associated Press, told a Vermont newspaper in 2012.
The 1990 vote refers to the Republican incumbent, Peter Smith, publicly supporting a ban on assault weapons. The NRA would later assist Sanders’s campaign and he would go on to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, before moving on to his current role as U.S. Senator.
In a vote that became more significant later on, Sanders voted in 2005 to bar lawsuits against firearm manufacturers from victims of gun violence. The NRA, among other groups, argued that it was not the company’s fault if someone was violently hurt by a firearm. The majority of Congress agreed, and the legislation was passed a decade ago.
This vote proved to be somewhat controversial in December 2012, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
However, Sanders has since changed his views on gun legislation, voting to expand background checks in 2013. But, he believed that new gun control laws would not have a significant effect on the public.
“If you passed the strongest gun-control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect,” the Senator said two years ago.
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