Here's Bad News and Worse News About Bernie Sanders and Gun Control

Bernie won't make gun control a Supreme Court litmus test, but it gets worse.
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Bernie won't make gun control a Supreme Court litmus test, but it gets worse.
Bernie Sanders on All In

Everybody knows that Hillary Clinton has been beating up on Bernie Sanders but good over gun control, and Bernie has stubbornly continued to insist that we need a law, not a judge or jury, to decide if gun manufacturers are liable for the damage their products cause. However, an even more depressing reality hit home this week when Chris Hayes asked Bernie Sanders if he believes that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to gun ownership:

Hayes: I wonder your views about Heller which is the opinion in 2007 by the supreme court finding that basically the second amendment protects an individual right to bear arms. do you think that was properly decided? would you look for a justice who would overturn it?

Sanders: Chris, I'm not going to go through every Supreme Court decision. This is what I will tell you. I don't go around coming up with litmus tests every other day. I'm obviously pro-choice, 100% voting record for women's rights, for the environment and so forth. I worry, very much, about the future of American democracy, the degree to which we are going to have a vibrant democracy if Citizens United continues to stand.

For those of you keeping score at home, that was a "no," not a no comment. Bernie listed the litmus test he does favor, and said he's not coming up with others.

That's the bad news. The worse news is that Hillary Clinton probably won't make Heller a litmus test, either, at least not on the basis of an individual right. Hillary has listed numerous litmus tests for Supreme Court picks, among them the Voting Rights Act and protecting marriage equality, but not Heller. During a fundraiser in October, she did proclaim that “the Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment,” but appeared to be talking about assault weapons, which gun rights advocates say are covered byHeller because they are “commonly used”:

The idea that you can have an open carry permit with an AK-47 over your shoulder walking up and down the aisles of a supermarket is just despicable. 

In 2008, both Hillary and then-Senator Barack Obama were supportive of an individual right to own firearms:

  Q: Both you and Sen. Obama, in the past, have supported strong gun control measures. But now when I listen to you on the campaign, I hear you emphasizing that you believe in an individual’s right to bear arms. Both of you were strong advocates for licensing of guns. Both of you were strong advocates for the registration of guns. Why don’t you emphasize that now?
CLINTON: I respect the Second Amendment. I respect the rights of lawful gun owners to own guns, to use their guns, but I also believe that most lawful gun owners whom I have spoken with for many years across our country also want to be sure that we keep those guns out of the wrong hands. And as president, I will work to try to bridge this divide, which I think has been polarizing and, frankly, doesn’t reflect the common sense of the American people. We will strike the right balance to protect the constitutional right but to give people the feeling & the reality that they will be protected from guns in the wrong hands.  

The good news, if there is any, is that this position puts them squarely on the right side of the general electorate, which supports individual gun rights by huge margins.