After Bernie Sanders sat down with editors from the New York Daily News last week, the interview raised a few eyebrows, in part because the senator struggled a bit when pressed for details on elements of his platform. But it was Sanders’ approach to gun policy that may have mattered most.
The newspapers editors noted a lawsuit “waiting to be ruled on in Connecticut. The victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are looking to have the right to sue for damages the manufacturers of the weapons.” The editors asked if Sanders believes those family members should have the right to sue gun manufacturers for damages. “No,” Sanders replied. “I don’t.”
In last night’s debate in New York, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer brought up the same issue. From the transcript:
BLITZER: You recently said you do not think crime victims should be able to sue gun makers for damages. The daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed back in the 2012 mass shooting, says you owe her and families an apology. Do you?SANDERS: What we need to do is to do everything that we can to make certain that guns do not fall into the hands of people who do not have them. Now, I voted against this gun liability law because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to be held accountable and be sued.
Pressed further on whether he owes Sandy Hook families an apology, the Vermont senator said he does not. “They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue,” Sanders concluded.
There’s some awkwardness to his position. Sanders believes these families deserve support as they press their case in the courts, but at the same time, he also backs legal restrictions on the viability of their efforts. As the Huffington Post put it, “[W]hat Sanders was saying is that he believes the Sandy Hook victims should have a right to sue – and lose.”
A few hours before the debate, a state court said it’s willing to go in a different direction.
A lawsuit can proceed against the maker of the gun used in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and 6 adults dead, a Connecticut judge ruled on Thursday.Bushmaster, manufacturer of the AR-15 assault weapon used in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, had asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it was protected by a 2005 federal law blocking lawsuits against gunmakers when their products were used in the commission of crimes.
This is highly relevant to the Democratic race because Sanders voted for that 2005 law, extending immunity to gun manufacturers – a policy Clinton opposed.
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis said the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) does not mean the Sandy Hook case must end. “The Superior Court has subject matter jurisdiction over a wrongful death action where the injury arose out of conduct by the defendants,” Bellis wrote. “Any immunity that PLCAA may provide does not implicate this court’s subject matter jurisdiction.”
For more reasons than one, it’s a case worth watching.