President Obama made what almost sounded like a pitch for Hillary Clinton’s gun-control stance at his passionate Friday press conference (even as he gently chided his former secretary of state for backing a Syrian no-fly zone). A visibly angry Obama promised to “politicize” the issue, and then he offered advice to gun-control forces:
The people who are troubled by this have to be as intense and as organized and as adamant about this issue as folks on the other side.… here’s what you need to do: you have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue. And if they’re not, if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles, you’ve got to vote against them. And let them know precisely why you’re voting against them. And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter, cause that’s what is happening on the other side.
If Democrats listen to Obama, that could be bad news for Bernie Sanders. Clinton has announced an ambitious new push for gun limits, in the wake of the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Thursday, and she’s hoping it changes the momentum in the unexpectedly close Democratic primary.
Gun control is one issue where Clinton stands to Sanders’s left. The Vermont socialist isn’t terrible on guns: Though the NRA endorsed him in his first race for Congress, he has a D-minus rating from the group. He supported the 2013 background-check bill, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and closing the gun-show sales loophole.
Yet Sanders has troubled gun-control advocates with a few vexing apostasies, most notably his vote against the Brady Bill. On that and other gun issues, he has said that he believes states and not the federal government should set limits. He also voted for NRA-backed bills granting gun manufacturers legal immunity against claims by gun victims, and making it possible to carry checked guns on Amtrak. He told Bill Maher last year that mental health was “maybe the more important issue” in stopping mass shootings than gun control. “We’ve got millions of folks walking the streets who are need of mental health and they can’t walk into a place and get it,” he said. “This is the NRA talking point.… that’s what they say.” Maher replied.
Sanders’s mixed stand on guns reflects his political reality: He’s the senator from a pro-gun state that suffers little gun violence. In fact, he touts his record appealing to gun owners as giving him the kind of broad populist appeal that might, in the general election, help Democrats in red states and rural areas, where party leaders are often seen as gun-grabbing elitists.