Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders once told a group of Vermont voters that he did not believe gun control was a “panacea for the forces of crime,” saying that “people pull the trigger, not the guns themselves.”
Sanders made the remarks — reported by Vermont’s Rutland Herald at the time — while campaigning for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1990. That year, the National Rifle Association targeted his opponent, incumbent Republican Rep. Peter Smith, who they felt had betrayed him on a key issue. Sanders used the N.R.A.’s disappointment with Smith to his advantage in that campaign.
“Mr. Smith had said he would oppose gun control, but he agreed to sponsor legislation that would have banned certain types of assault weapons,” explained a New York Times article published after Sanders was elected. “Conservative Republicans abandoned him, joining liberal voters to form a solid majority for Mr. Sanders, who said he would not support Federal gun-control measures.”
In the Rutland Herald article, Sanders reportedly expressed his support for a ban on several assault rifles to a room full of “sportsmen,” but qualified that he was no expert and that he would consult with them on gun issues that came up in the Congress.
The following year, as a member of Congress, Sanders opposed the “Brady Bill” — which instituted a waiting period for handgun purchases and required background checks for those seeking to buy guns from federally-licensed firearms dealers.
Sanders was not quiet about his opposition to the bill. In an interview with the Rutland Herald, Sanders said that “anyone who has any illusions that gun control will cause a significant dent in the very serious problem of crime is mistaken.”
Sanders made similar comments at the time to the New York Times and the Washington Post.
“I have a problem with a Congress and media that spend an enormous amount of time talking about the Brady bill, which even the strongest proponents know will not have a major impact on crime,” Sanders told the Washington Post at the time. “I view it as hypocritical.”
According to the Times, Sanders “described the bill as ‘tokenism’ and ‘pure symbolism,’ and said gun control should not be a Federal concern.”
Sanders was harshly criticized for his vote against the gun control measure.
The Washington Post quoted an unnamed “source close to Vermont politics,” who blasted Sanders in no uncertain terms.
“He can give you all the lofty reasons he wants for opposing Brady — but it was strictly a survival vote,” said their source. “He wants to get reelected next year. Period.”
Likewise, Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur — at the time, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party — told the Times that Sanders’s opposition was “an insider kind of vote,” and “a pretty cynical gesture.”
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