Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over several issues in a debate held in Flint, Michigan, where government mismanagement caused the contamination of drinking water in the city. For the first time, Clinton called for the resignation or recall of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, months after Sanders had called for the embattled governor to step down.
The two Democratic candidates debated on issues ranging from the automobile manufacturers’ bailout in 2008, taxation, and also Second Amendment rights and talked over one another about the economy and Clinton’s relations with Wall Street investment firms, as well as firearms.
Clinton pressed Sanders on gun control and accused him of close relations with the National Rifle Association. "You talk about corporate greed. The gun manufacturers sell guns to make as much money as they can make," Clinton said. Sanders responded that Clinton was arguing for banning the manufacture of guns.
Gene Kopf, whose daughter was severely wounded in an attack by a Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan two weeks ago, was one of the members of the audience who was allowed to ask questions of the candidates. Kopf said that he does not believe criminal background checks or mental health evaluations can stop what he called the “rash of mass shootings” in America. He asked the candidates what they would do about this “epidemic.”
Clinton said that as president she would “try everything that works” to limit the numbers and kinds of people who are given access to firearms. She approved, not only of the closing the so-called loopholes for gun shows and online sales, but also the Charleston loophole, which she said allows a gun purchase at the end of three days, even if the background check is not completed. Clinton went further than that when she condemned gun manufacturers and vendors. Addressing the questioner, Clinton said “I also believe, so strongly, Gene, that giving immunity to gun makers and sellers was a terrible mistake.”
This was a reference to legislation passed by Congress in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which granted legal immunity to the gun industry. As a member of the House of Representatives, Sanders voted in favor, while Senator Clinton voted against.
In the debate, Clinton said that PLCAA disrupted a “very promising legal theory” that could have allowed lawsuits against gun makers and sellers to go forward. She called for a repeal of the law, in order to make sure “gun makers and sellers are like any other business. They can be held accountable.” She added, “We've got to have a public discussion, because we have created a culture in which people grab for guns all the time.”
As for Sanders, whose ranking by the National Rifle Association has moved from an “F” as recently as 2010, to its current level of “D minus”, pointed out that even President Obama said that there is no “magic solution” to the problem of mass killings. He said, “Any lunatic tomorrow, any person can walk into a theater and do something horrific.” Sanders added that, while he agrees with Obama that it is a tough issue and that everything must be done to “minimize the possibility of these mass killings.”
CNN host Anderson Cooper mentioned that families of the victims killed in the Sandy Hook shootings are going to sue Remington, the company he said manufactured the weapon used in the Newtown massacre. Cooper said that the lawsuit may not proceed because of the bill Sanders voted for. He asked Sanders what he would say to the families who lost loved ones on the issue of liability.
Sanders said that if a person legally purchases a firearm and then uses it to kill, that he disagrees with holding the manufacturers liable, saying “…where you hold manufacturers' liability is if they understand that they're selling guns into an area that - it's getting into the hands of criminals, of course they should be held liable.”
The Vermont senator pointed out the logical conclusion of holding gun manufacturers and sellers liable would mean ending the making of guns in America. He said, “But if they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you're really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America. I don't agree with that.”