On April 4, the New York Daily News released the transcripts of a meeting between Bernie Sanders and its editorial board. The meeting was held on Friday, April 1. During this meeting, Sanders discussed a wide range of topics, from economic inequality to his weakest, gun control. When the topic of the Sandy Hook massacre came up, Sanders told the editorial board that he does not believe manufacturers or retailers that sell guns legally should be held liable for the actions of those who purchase their guns.
Because of this, the paper plastered Bernie’s face on its front page with the headline, “Bernie’s Sandy Hook Shame,” as if to imply he does not care about the families whose loved ones died at the hands of a mentally ill killer. That could not be further from the truth.
According to the paper’s own transcripts, what Sanders said regarding Sandy Hook and other shootings was more nuanced than its sensationalist headline implies.
“In the same sense that if you’re a gun dealer and you sell me a gun and I go out and I kill him [gestures to someone in room] … Do I think that that gun dealer should be sued for selling me a legal product that he misused? [Shakes head no.] But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people. So if somebody walks in and says, ‘I’d like 10,000 rounds of ammunition,’ you know, well, you might be suspicious about that. So I think there are grounds for those suits, but not if you sell me a legal product.”
The point of contention regarding Sanders’ stand on this particular issue is whether the manufacturer of the AR-15 Bushmaster Firearms should be held liable for the December, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school that took the lives of 20 children and several adults. Parents of the victims claim that the manufacturer and seller knew these guns are not meant for civilian use, and yet allowed them to be sold to the general public anyway.
This argument would actually support Sanders’ opinion. As he said, if a gun maker or a gun seller knows a firearm is being sold illegally or not meant for public use, and they sell it anyway, there are grounds for a suit, according to his statement during his meeting with the NYDN editorial board. However, the guns Adam Lanza used were sold legally, so who is responsible?
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who supports Hillary Clinton, criticized Sanders for making the statement. Murphy tweeted his displeasure with Sanders.
“For Sanders to say that the Sandy Hook families should be barred from court, even if the weapon was negligently made, is wrong.”
Murphy went on to tweet that supporting the restoration of liability for sellers is “not the same thing” as restoring liability for the manufacturers. In other words, Murphy criticized Sanders for not supporting liability for manufacturers whose guns are later sold by retailers to people who then commit crimes. By that time, the gun has travel from the manufacturer, likely to a distributor, which then distributes it to the retailer, who then sells it to the customer. Unless the manufacturer sells directly to customers, why should they be held accountable?
It is the retailer’s responsibility to ensure that any guns, whether they are small hand guns or the AR-15 Bushmaster, are sold legally. If a retailer is found to have sold a firearm to a person who is legally not permitted to own one, and that person uses the gun to commit a crime, obviously that seller should be held accountable for its mistake.
This is exactly what Bernie Sanders’ position on the issue is.
Reading through the harrowing experience of the Sandy Hook shooting and its aftermath, where so many young children died, it is easy to become angry at the manufacturer for creating a killing machine. Such guns should not even exist. But the fact is, they do, and gun makers will continue to make them, and unless these manufacturers knowingly put a defective or otherwise illegal product out for distribution to the public, they should not be held liable for the actions of those who legally purchase them.
Bernie Sanders is able to see through the fog of emotion to view the issue in a rational light. That does not make him heartless or cruel. It does not mean he doesn’t care about the victims of Adam Lanza’s depravity. It means he believes in fair laws and that justice should be applied appropriately. Holding the gun makers responsible for the actions of a deranged gunman is not the answer.
The New York Daily News knowingly plastered a headline on its front page misrepresenting Bernie Sanders’ words, and the Vermont senator needs to address this. So far, the Sanders campaign has not addressed this criticism. The Sandy Hook tragedy should never have happened, but the gun maker was not at fault. It was a broken mental health system and gun laws that don’t adequately screen at the buyer level that helped contribute to Lanza’s rampage.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]