Clinton Tacks to Sanders’s Left With New Gun-Control Push

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Hillary Clinton Speaks At Broward College
Hillary Clinton speaks at Broward College on October 2, 2015, in Davie, Florida. Photo: Johnny Louis/2015 Johnny Louis

Last week, in response to the mass shooting in Oregon, Hillary Clinton called for a national push against the NRA and the gun lobby, saying, “This is not just tragic. We don’t just need to pray for people. We need to act and we need to build a movement. It’s infuriating.” On Monday, she’ll explain what she intends to do about it if elected president, when she unveils her plan to tighten restrictions on gun sales through legislation and executive actions. Clinton has been discussing the issue on the campaign trail since the Charleston church massacre in June, but the new push may also help her politically. Tackling gun violence is one of the few areas where Clinton is more liberal than Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who’s ahead of her in several polls of New Hampshire and Iowa voters.

Clinton is expected to announce during campaign stops in New Hampshire that she would take executive action to close loopholes that allow people to buy firearms at gun shows or from private online sellers without passing a background check. She would also try to ban domestic abusers from purchasing guns, even if they’re not married to their victim. A Clinton aide told The Wall Street Journal that she will propose using executive authority to change the definition of who is “in the business” of selling weapons under federal law. “This would ensure that high-volume gun sellers are covered by the same common-sense rules that apply to guns stores — including requiring background checks on gun sales,” the aide said.

There’s a good deal of overlap between Clinton’s proposals and steps the group Everytown for Gun Safety is urging President Obama to take immediately. According to Politico, the Clinton campaign has been talking with the group, and hired at least one of its former interns.

Clinton will also call on Congress to take action, though the Senate now has five more NRA-backed Republicans than it did when a bipartisan gun-control bill failed in 2013. (And lawmakers seem uninterested in tackling the problem, which is unsurprising since they can barely keep the government functioning.) Clinton will urge Congress to close the “Charleston loophole,” which allowed Dylann Roof to obtain a gun despite a felony drug conviction because his background check wasn’t completed within three days. She also wants Congress to overturn the 2005 law that prevents firearm manufacturers and dealers from being sued by the victims of gun violence. While serving in the Senate in 2005, Clinton voted against the law, but Sanders, who was in the House at the time, supported it.

Second Amendment rights are important to many Vermont voters, and Sanders has a mixed record on gun control. He supported the 2013 law to expand background checks and ban certain types of weapons, but in 1993 he voted against the Brady bill, which established mandatory background checks and a five-day waiting period. He also voted to allow guns on Amtrak and received support from the NRA during his first campaign. “The president is right. Condolences are not enough,” Sanders said on MSNBC in response to the Oregon shooting. “We’ve got to do something … We need sensible gun-control legislation.” Sanders supports closing the gun-show loophole and improving mental-health care, and said for there to be progress the two sides of the gun debate need to “start talking to each other.”

On Sunday, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley called on Clinton and Sanders to support his gun-control proposal, which includes fingerprinting and licensing everyone who purchases a gun, and making trafficking illegal guns a federal crime. O’Malley is polling below one percent, so even if he draws the support of staunch gun-control supporters it probably won’t change his standing in the race. However, his tough stance does ensure that gun control will continue to be an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail, and in the upcoming debate.