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The issue on which Bernie Sanders aims for 'the middle'

Liberal crowds are flocking to Sen. Bernie Sanders, but there's still one issue on which the Vermont senator breaks with progressive orthodoxy.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Madison, Wis. on July 1, 2015. (Photo by Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg/Getty)
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Madison, Wis. on July 1, 2015.
One of the biggest political stories of the summer is the reception Sen. Bernie Sanders is receiving on the presidential campaign trail. In a 2016 field filled with high-profile candidates, it's the Vermont Independent who's drawing the largest crowds.
This was evident yesterday in Maine, which came on the heels of similarly successful events in Iowa and Wisconsin last week. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Sanders is "having way more retail success on the campaign trail than anyone else in either party -- anyone."
Sanders' early success seems baffling to much of the political world, but let this be a lesson to observers: there are plenty of unapologetic liberals out there who are eager to celebrate Sanders and his vision.
But just away from the spotlight, there's still just one potential trouble area for the Vermonter. A few readers flagged this Facebook item yesterday from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which wasn't pleased with comments Sanders made in an interview on Sunday with CNN's Jake Tapper:

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders' characterization here of the National Rifle Association-drafted "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" that he voted for in 2005 is an utter fabrication. The bill has nothing to do with protecting upstanding gun manufacturers and dealers. Instead, it gives NEGLIGENT manufacturers and dealers blanket immunity from civil lawsuits. This law is THE REASON why two parents who lost their daughter in the Aurora shooting had their suit thrown out and are now being ordered to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees to gun companies that armed James Holmes. It is an immoral law that denies victims and survivors their day in court -- a fundamental democratic right -- and Sanders' position is totally unacceptable. A big thanks to Jake Tapper for holding him accountable.

Sanders hasn't taken much heat from the left since launching his campaign, so it's worth pausing to appreciate what this is all about.
In the CNN interview, Tapper asked Sanders, "Earlier this year, the parents of one of the 12 innocent people killed during the Aurora movie theater shooting, they saw their lawsuit to hold ammunition sellers liable for the attack, they saw that dismissed. And one of the reasons was a law that you voted for which protects manufacturers of firearms and ammunition from being sued. Why did you vote that way?"
Sanders stressed that the NRA is not a fan of his -- he's voted, for example, to close the gun-show loophole and in support of instant background checks -- before explaining:

"Now, the issues that you're talking about is, if somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer, and that murderer kills somebody with the gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not anymore than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beat somebody over the head with a hammer. That is not what a lawsuit should be about. "And this is part, by the way, I may say, of -- you know, folks who do not like guns is fine, but we have millions of people who are gun owners in this country; 99.9 percent of those people obey the law. I want to see real serious debate and action on guns. But it is not going to take place if we simply have extreme positions on both sides. I think I can bring us to the middle."

It was this response that did not go over well with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. The litigation strategy against gun manufacturers is an important idea for many gun-safety advocates, and Sanders seemed to dismiss the idea as ridiculous.
Overall, I'm generally skeptical that gun policy represents a real threat to Sanders' support from the left. The senator's platform largely focuses on economics, not social issues, and my hunch is that if someone were to tell the thousands of voters showing up for Sanders' events that he's a moderate on guns, the vast majority wouldn't care.
But it's nevertheless a rare instance in which Sanders breaks with progressive orthodoxy, and it's an issue on which Hillary Clinton is squarely to the senator's left -- a detail that Democratic voters may be hearing more about in the coming months.
* Update: In the statement from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the group notes that two parents who lost their daughter in the Aurora shooting "are now being ordered to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees to gun companies."
A colleague reminds me, however, that this is not entirely correct -- the parents have been ordered to pay “reasonable” damages, and the $200,000 figure is the one the company has requested. The judge, however, has not yet set the actual amount, and as of now, the parents in the case haven't been ordered to pay anything.