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15 April 2016
Hillary Clinton: Bernie Sanders 'has been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA' 14APR16
By Linda Qiu on Thursday, April 14th, 2016 at 11:07 p.m.
Reeling from attacks over her ties to Wall Street, Hillary Clinton blasted Bernie Sanders over his own connections to a target of liberal ire: the gun lobby.
"He’s been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA. He kept his word to the NRA. He voted against the Brady Bill five times," Clinton said during the April 14 Democratic primary debate in New York.
Schwerin also noted that Sanders voted for an amendment in the Brady Bill that allows prospective gun owners to buy a firearm if their background checks are not completed in three days. This is the amendment that facilitated Dylann Roof to purchase his .45 caliber Glock pistol, which he used to kill nine people in a historically black church in Charleston in 2015.
The Clinton campaign also noted that the NRA helped elect Sanders to the House of Representatives in 1990. While it’s true that Sanders and the gun lobby were on the same side in that election, their alignment was temporary.
The NRA backed Republican incumbent Peter Smith in his 1988 race against Sanders. But Smith didn’t stick to his guns and came out in favor of an assault weapons ban after he won.
Feeling betrayed, the gun group spent $18,000 attacking the incumbent in 1990 and issued bumper stickers emblazoned with images of Smith as Pinocchio and "Dump Pete Smith," Garrison Nelson, a professor of state politics at the University of Vermont previously told PolitiFact.
Paul Blackman, a former NRA research associate, told us in 2015 that while Sanders wasn’t exactly pro-gun and the NRA wasn’t explicitly pro-Sanders, he seemed like the lesser of two evils.
"I don't remember whether we ever made a pro-Sanders statement, but we certainly made it clear that Vermonters should vote against Rep. Smith, and everyone understood that to mean we were supporting, directly or indirectly, the election of Sanders," he said. "Our people were satisfied that he was less bad than -- not equally bad as -- Smith."
"It was an awkward situation for Bernie. Sort of like the enemy of my enemy is my friend," said Chris Graff, the former Vermont AP bureau chief. "The NRA did not campaign for him but Bernie did oppose the Brady Bill. ... I do believe that Bernie ‘owed’ the NRA when he first went to Congress."
Since 1990, however, Sanders and the NRA seemed to part ways. Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said Sanders has shown suppleness and evolution since his first days in Congress, adding he isn’t a "gun lobby lapdog."
Blackman, the former NRA researcher, said the group doesn’t consider Sanders "an anti-gunner."
Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ policy director, noted that Sanders’ latest grade from the NRA was a D. In fact, Sanders has earned failing grades from the NRA for the past two decades. His highest mark was a C-, a barely passing grade that doesn’t amount to full-throated support. (The group has not graded Sanders in 2016.)
Clinton said Sanders "has been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA."
This is a stretch. Sanders won his congressional bid about 25 years ago thanks at least in part to the NRA, and has voted against major pieces of gun control legislation. However, he has also cast votes for gun control and has received low marks from the NRA for the past 20 years.
Neither the gun lobby nor gun control advocates claim Sanders as their own.
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Says Bernie Sanders "has been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA."