In the past few weeks, there have been articles from a variety of publications essentially saying that Bernie Sanders stands with the National Rifle Association and typically doesn’t support gun control. Slate ran a piece headlined “Bernie Sanders, Gun Nut.” The Daily Caller ran one headlined “Bernie Sanders, Second Amendment Socialist?” MSNBC ran another, “The Exception to Bernie Sanders’ Liberalism.” Some of these pieces came close to identifying why Sanders’ gun control record is the way it is, but none quite grasped it.

Yes, Sanders has voted against some gun control laws. I’m pretty progressive by most standards, but I would have voted against them too, had I been in his position. Sanders is in Vermont, a state with a high rate of gun ownership and a low rate of gun violence, and his voting record makes sense when you look at exactly what the vote was about. As someone who likes to go shooting now and then but also sees the need to prevent gun violence, I understand why some proposed gun control laws are not the most sensible option. “After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military,” William S. Burroughs famously said.

One bill Sanders voted against was the Brady Act of 1993. The act instituted federal background checks on firearm purchasers, something we later saw Sanders support, but it also prevented felons or people who have “renounced U.S. citizenship” from owning a gun. Many felonies are not violent crimes, and even felons who did commit a violent crime often come to learn from their mistake. Making it so no felon can ever have a gun again would likely not have been popular in Vermont, and it certainly isn’t popular in many other states. While Sanders seems to be in favor of background checks, I can see how preventing this section of the populace from owning a gun at all could be a problematic concept.

The Slate article pointed out that Sanders voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005. The writer calls this a “noxious” piece of legislation that prevents gun-violence victims from suing a gun manufacturer when its product is used to harm people. By way of comparison, he notes that you can sue Toyota for “manufacturing a faulty pedal.” But that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is a product—legally allowed to be sold and functioning exactly as it’s made to—being used for horrific purposes. You cannot sue Toyota because someone intentionally plows through a crowd of people with their car, which is the same concept this bill applied to gun manufacturers. Not liking that these kinds of semi-automatic rifles are legally available to the public is a completely different legislative matter, but people suing companies for selling products they’re allowed to sell is ridiculous. If everyone was allowed to sue companies whose products were used incorrectly, innovation in many fields would be stifled, because companies would worry endlessly about hypothetical situations that could connect to its product causing harm. It would be akin to being allowed to sue a drone manufacturer that intends its product to be used to help people take aerial photos because someone strapped a bomb to it.

Many articles have quoted Sanders saying he doesn’t think gun control will stop massacres like those that occurred in Newtown or Aurora. They fail to point out why he said this. Sanders has often said that he doesn’t think sweeping gun control laws alone will stop gun violence, and that we need to focus on mental health services as well. He said this once, mind you, right after voting for increased background checks for gun sales and an assault weapons ban in 2013.

As The Daily Caller notes, Sanders has an F rating with the NRA. They’re not exactly buddies. He was elected to Congress after being mayor of Burlington in 1990, and he can partially thank the NRA for that. His opponent, Republican Rep. Peter Smith, came out in favor of an assault weapons ban, sparking an NRA smear campaign against him. This ended up helping Sanders, although he didn’t go after NRA support. Yes, he benefited indirectly from the NRA in this case and has voted for some bills the group supports, but it’s unlikely to invite him to speak at gun conferences.

One of the major problems here is the tendency to expect political debates to be one side versus the other. You either want to get rid of all guns or you want everyone in the world to have 25 guns. It’s not that black and white. When Sanders votes or speaks about gun control, he’s representing his people, many of whom are responsible gun owners. He has to have their interests at heart. Of course, he also needs to stick true to his own views and make moral decisions, but saying he’s a gun nut because he voted against any gun control bill at all is disingenuous.

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