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Sanders reverses course on gun immunity vote

But his campaign manager says it's not a flip flop.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on Dec. 21, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on Dec. 21, 2015.

CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- On the eve of the final Democratic presidential debate here, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign announced he would support a bill to strip legal immunity from gun manufactures, a status they gained from a 2005 bill for which Sanders voted.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has made a major issue of Sanders’ vote, arguing that he did the bidding of the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby. Sanders has said he was open to reconsidering the law, but said last week his vote was “not a mistake.”

But in a statement Saturday night, Sanders said he would support legislation recently introduced by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and California Rep. Adam Schiff to repeal key parts of the 2005 law, which shielded gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits relating to damage caused by guns they make or sell.

“I’m pleased that this legislation is being introduced,” Sanders said in a statement. “As I have said for many months now, we need to look at the underlying law and tighten it up.”

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said in a tweet that the rival team was pleased with the change, and suggested it was a flip-flop. “The Clinton campaign welcomes Senator Sanders' debate-eve conversion, reversing his vote to immunize gun manufacturers,” he said.

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Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver rejected the idea that Sanders had changed his position on the legislation. “This is not a flip flop, this is consistent with the position he held earlier in the campaign,” he told MSNBC. 

Sanders has maintained that he voted for the immunity legislation because he worried small businesses that sell firearms could be ruined if someone improperly used a gun they were sold.

His campaign said it would also introduce an amendment to Blumenthal and Schiff legislation aimed at protecting small gun sellers. The amendment would instruct the Department of Commerce to monitor the impact of the repeal on rural stories. “As I have said, I do want to make sure that this legislation does not negatively impact small gun stores in rural America that serve the hunting community,” Sanders said.

His support for the legislation is more about the presidential campaign than actual legislation, since the Republicans who control Congress are unlikely to bring up for a vote any bill opposed by the gun rights groups. 

In a statement, Rep. Schiff welcomed Sanders' announcement, calling the 2005 legislation "a serious mistake" that has "done tremendous damage to efforts to secure responsible business practices in the gun industry, and to reduce gun violence."