Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic presidential debate in Miami
At a Democratic presidential debate in Miami Thursday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suggested that Seven Days had mischaracterized comments he made during a 2013 interview.
“Sen. Sanders, a Vermont newspaper recently released portions of an interview you gave in 2013 in which you said, ‘My own view on guns is: Everything being equal, states should make those decisions,’” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said.
“No,” Sanders said, interrupting her.
“Has your thinking changed since then?” Maddow continued. “Do you now think there’s a federal role to play?”
“No, that’s a mischaracterization of my thinking,” Sanders said.
“It’s a quote of you,” Maddow responded, prompting laughter from the audience.
At the time, Sanders was weighing whether to support federal gun control measures proposed by then-president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden. Later in the interview, Sanders said, “If you passed the strongest gun-control legislation tomorrow, I don't think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen, which are really tragedy."
At Thursday’s debate, Sanders answered Maddow’s question by referring to his failed 1988 campaign for Vermont’s sole seat in the U.S. House.
“Look, we have a gun crisis right now; 40,000 people a year are getting killed,” Sanders began. “In 1988, Rachel, when it wasn’t popular, I ran on a platform of banning assault weapons and, in fact, lost that race for Congress.”
Sanders made similar claims during his 2016 presidential campaign, but the Washington Post called them into question in this fact-checker. Though Sanders spoke frequently about his support for an assault weapons ban during his successful 1990 campaign for the House, there’s little evidence that the issue played a major role in his 1988 loss.
Some newspaper stories suggest that Sanders was, in fact, more supportive of gun rights at the time than he now maintains.
"It's a local control issue," the Burlington Free Press quoted him as saying in an October 26, 1988, story. "In Vermont, it is not my view that the present law needs any changing."
Nearly two years later, the Rutland Herald wrote in a June 16, 1990, story, “In the last congressional campaign, Sanders said repeatedly that gun control was a local issue and avoided taking a public stand on bans. He now denies that his support of assault gun legislation represents a change in his position.”
Asked this week for contemporaneous documentation of his 1988 position, Sanders’ presidential campaign provided only newspaper stories from the 1990 race.
During Thursday night’s debate, Sanders said that he now has a D-minus rating from the NRA. “And I believe that what we need is comprehensive gun legislation that, among other things, provides universal background [checks], we end the gun show loophole, we end the straw man provision,” he said. “And I believed in 1988, and I believe today, that assault weapons … are weapons from the military and that they should not be on the streets of America.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) interrupted Sanders, saying, “Your plan leaves them on the streets. You’d leave 15 million on the streets.”
“We ban the sale, we ban the sale and distribution and that’s what I’ve believed for many years,” Sanders responded.