Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has been dogged for months by his past support for a law that granted immunity from civil liability to gun manufacturers, an issue that has become increasingly important in the New York Democratic primary. He has faced particularly harsh criticism for siding against the Sandy Hook families in their lawsuit against gun manufacturers.
Sanders has tried to step into more palatable territory by trying to nuance the question, but on CNN’s New Day Monday morning, he made it crystal clear that while he has “evolved” on the Newtown families’ right to sue, he doesn’t think they should win:
Sanders: I sell you a gun legally, you go out and kill somebody, should I be held responsible? But this is what I also believe. If you walk into my shop and want 10,000 rounds of ammunition, here it is, chris. that’s pretty crazy. i should be held responsible. If I am a gun manufacturer, selling guns into areas where I know they’re ending up in the hands of criminals, I should be held liable for that as well.
Cuomo: The Newtown suit is you put them in video games, market them to the young, tell people they’re tools of empowerment, they make you cool, make you mighty. They want to sue. Do you think they should be able to sue?
Sanders: Obviously, they should, and they are suing.
Cuomo: Well, you said no.
Sanders: Within a broader context. Do I think somebody should be held liable for selling a legal product? Should somebody have the right to sue and make their case? Of course they should.
Cuomo: The Newtown families should be allowed to sue the manufacturers on the basis of marketing?
Sanders: They are doing that.
Cuomo: The judge said yes, but many people said you were on the wrong side of that issue.
Sanders: What I said, in my own personal view, if I sell you a legal product, am I liable for the crazy thing that you do with it? I think not.
Cuomo: I’m trying to get you to clarify it.
Sanders: Should somebody have the right to sue? Anybody can sue for any reason. We’ll see how the courts react to that suit.
This is what Sanders has done all along, to lay out two scenarios in which he thinks gun retailers should and should not be held liable, only one of which applies to gun manufacturers in the Sandy Hook case: they were selling a legal product, and not to the end user. Here, Sanders removes all doubt by saying “Anybody can sue for any reason,” but adding “if I sell you a legal product, am I liable for the crazy thing that you do with it? I think not.”
In a cockeyed way, Sanders’ devotion to this principle displays a certain kind of political courage, because now that he has decided that the courts should decide these cases, and not NRA-backed legislators, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by weighing on on the merits of this specific case, nor any obligation to do so, particularly with multiple primaries in the region coming up.
Sanders now supports a bill to repeal that shield law, a bill that’s currently sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.