Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders gives an opening statement at a Netroots Nation town hall meeting on July 18, 2015, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP

Bernie Sanders: Racism, economic inequality are ‘parallel problems’

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Sunday that economic inequality and institutional racism are “parallel problems” that both must be addressed at the same time.

“We have to end institutional racism, but we have to deal with the reality that 50% of young black kids are unemployed, that we have massive poverty in America, that we have an unsustainable level of income and wealth inequality,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“We have to address both,” he added, referencing the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. to combat poverty in America.

Sanders was lambasted by some black activists last weekend at progressive conference Netroots Nation, where critics accused him of focusing on economic issues over racial inequality.

“My view is that we have got to deal with the fact that the middle class in this country is disappearing, that we have millions of people working for wages that are much too low impacts everybody, impacts the African American community even more,” he said on Sunday. “Those are issues that do have to be dealt with, and just at the same time as we deal with institutional racism.”

The Vermont senator, who has opposed some gun control measures backed by his party, also defended his record on the issue, saying that the country needs to find “common ground” on firearm legislation.

“Coming from a rural state, I think I can communicate with folks coming from urban states, where guns mean different things than they do in Vermont, where [they are] used for hunting,” he said.

“Nobody should have a gun who has a criminal background, was involved in domestic abuse situations. People should not have guns who are going to hurt other people, who are unstable,” he added. “We need to make sure that certain types of guns used to kill people, exclusively, not for hunting, should not be sold in the United States of America.”

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders: Racism, economic inequality are 'parallel problems'