Bernie Sanders got plenty of applause during the Democratic debate, especially when he talked about income inequality and the economy. But when talk turned to gun control, Sanders took a beating.
Here's Hillary Clinton handing it to him:
"Sanders did vote five times against the Brady Bill. Since it was passed more than two million prohibited purchases have been prevented," she said. "He also did vote, as he said, for this immunity provision. I voted against it…It was pretty straightforward to me."
Those two votes led to some of the harshest criticism of the night for Sanders, who didn't have the breakout, base-expanding evening his supporters probably hoped for. The votes not only illuminated a substantive policy break with Clinton, but they also showed the vulnerabilities of a gun-state senator running for federal office in a party united in cracking down on guns.
The first was Sanders' vote in 1993, when he was in the House, against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. It's named after James Brady, the man who was shot during an assassination attempt on President Reagan.
That bill requires background checks on people who buy a firearm can be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer, unless an exception applies. (There are a lot loopholes.) Sanders voted against partly because of the waiting period that applies to some of the background checks, he has said, and partly because he represents a state with a relatively high rate of gun ownership. But it cost him at the debate, where Clinton made a strong case for the Brady Act's effectiveness in blocking bad gun sales.
Fusion focus group: Young voters agree mental health must be a factor in gun sales
The second part of Sanders' flogging was about his 2005 vote supporting a law that shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits that could hold them accountable for crimes committed with weapons they sold.
Sanders voted for that law, giving his opponents another easy attack line. It was a "large and complicated bill," Sanders said at the debate, bringing up Vermont gun shops again and adding that there were provisions he didn't agree with.
Notoriously, the law, which Clinton voted against and wants to repeal, placed severe limitations on the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, who attempted to bring a lawsuit against gun manufacturers, distributors and sellers in 2014. The tragedy, which killed 26, was "made possible" by rifles that were “engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency,” argued the suit. The suit was forced to narrow its argument to two small exceptions of the law, reported the Washington Post.
"Not only did their case get thrown out, they were slapped with $200,000 in court fees because of the way that the NRA gets it its way in Congress, and we take a back seat. It's time to stand up and pass comprehensive gun safety legislation," scolded former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, pointing to a family of a Sandy Hook student who was killed that day, which was in attendance, and alluding that Sanders was closer to the National Rifle Association that he was.
Interestingly, earlier in the day, a Milwaukee gun shop was ordered to pay nearly $6 million to two injured cops, after they brought a suit against the store where the guns that seriously wounded them were purchased. That case is notable because it's rare—since the 2005 law was passed, Badger Guns is only the second gun dealer to face a liability trial.
"I come from a rural state," Sanders shot back, defending his voting record. "The views on gun control are in rural states are different than urban states, whether we like it or not. Our job is to bring people together around strong common sense gun legislation. I think there is a vast majority in this country who want to do the right thing and I intend to lead the country."
O'Malley, who passed a comprehensive gun control law in Maryland under his tenure as governor, took him to task on that assertion. Maryland both has homicide-ridden Baltimore and a vast countryside, he said, and it still got done.
"It's not about rural," he interrupted. "Have you ever been to the eastern shore? Have you ever been to western Maryland? We were able to pass this and still respect the hunting traditions to people who live in our rural areas, and we did it by leading by principles, not by pandering to the NRA."
"I don't think I'm pandering, and you have not been in the United States Congress," shot back Sanders. "Check it out."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.