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Senator for Sandy Hook families attacks Bernie Sanders’ record on guns

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Chris Murphy wasn’t pleased with Sanders’ answer when asked about a lawsuit against gun dealers and manufacturers by family of those killed in the massacre

One of the senators representing the families of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in 2012 has attacked Bernie Sanders for his record on guns, tweeting : “Dems can’t nominate a candidate who supports gun manufacturer immunity.”

Sanders, the leftwing Democratic presidential candidate, was asked about a lawsuit against gun dealers and manufacturers by family members of those killed in the massacre during a Monday interview with the New York Daily News.

“Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer, is that your question?” Sanders said. “No, I don’t.”

He called the suit “a backdoor way” of banning assault weapons.

While he supports a renewed federal ban on military-style weapons, Sanders said he did not believe that gun dealers should be held responsible for legally selling guns that are later misused. It is fair to hold gun buyers and sellers responsible, he said, “when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people.”

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Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has endorsed Clinton for president, tweeted a screenshot of Sanders’ comments, noting: “Bernie is a friend, but this is really bad.”

“For Sanders to say that the Sandy Hook families should be barred from court, even if the weapon was negligently made, is wrong,” he tweeted .

“Democrats cannot nominate a candidate who believes that toy gun makers should be held to a higher legal standard than real gun makers.

“And if this isn’t Sanders’s position – if he supports full return of liability for sellers and makers – then he should clarify immediately.”

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Sanders has supported Obama’s efforts to end gun violence, including supporting gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook shootings, and he “may well have have lost his first campaign for Congress in 1988 because he supported a ban on assault weapons”, campaign spokesman Michael Briggs wrote in an email.

“The senator has a well-deserved D-rating from the NRA while Secretary Clinton takes campaign cash from NRA lobbyists,” he wrote.

Clinton “has shifted her espoused position on guns from campaign to campaign. As a Senate candidate in New York, she favored strong limits on guns and gun ownership. As a presidential candidate in 2008, however, she posed as someone who was so gun friendly that then-Sen. Barack Obama compared her to Annie Oakley.”

Sanders has faced months of criticism from opponent Hillary Clinton and gun control advocates over his vote in support of a 2005 federal shield law that protects gun makers and sellers from liability when their guns are “criminally or unlawfully” misused.

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“Giving immunity to gunmakers and sellers was a terrible mistake,” Clinton said at March 6 debate, arguing that the gun industry should be held accountable “like any other business.”

Murphy is one of the sponsors of a bill introduced in January that would repeal the 2005 shield law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

“Producers of other consumer products strive to make their products safer and take additional care in marketing their products in part because they’re legally liable when their products hurt people,” Murphy’s spokesman Chris Harris wrote in an e-mail. “Proponents of repealing PLCAA believe that without immunity, gun manufacturers and dealers would make changes in how they’re designing & marketing these deadly weapons with an increased focus on public safety.”

Under pressure, Sanders has backed away from his previous support of the immunity law. In January, Sanders’s campaign said he would co-sponsor the repeal legislation . In an op-ed the following month, Murphy wrote that he was glad Sanders “has reversed his previous position,” but said that Clinton was the only candidate who has been a consistent champion of tougher gun laws.

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Despite pledging to help repeal the law, Sanders has continued to voice support for its central tenet: that companies that make and sell guns should not face lawsuits if someone legally buys a gun and then uses it in a crime.

“If you go to a gun store and you legally purchase a gun, and then, three days later, if you go out and start killing people, is the point of this lawsuit to hold the gun shop owner or the manufacturer of that gun liable?” Sanders said at the March 6 Democratic debate. “If that is the point, I have to tell you I disagree.”

He added: “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. 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.”

The next day, the National Rifle Association hailed Sanders’ comment, calling it “spot-on.”

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The parents of a seven-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook shooting wrote an op-ed after the debate calling Sanders’ comments about their lawsuit “simplistic and wrong.”

Mark Barden and Jackie Barden’s son Daniel was one of 20 first-graders shot to death in their classrooms in December 2012. The gunman, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, a variation of the AR-15 rifle that had been targeted by the lapsed 1994 assault weapon ban. The gun had been legally purchased by Lanza’s mother, who he also killed.

The Bardens are one of ten families of Sandy Hook victims suing the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the weapon used in the shooting.

While the families do not dispute the gun was sold legally, their lawsuit argues that the gun companies were negligent to market and sell a military-style weapon to the general public.

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“We have never suggested that Remington should be held liable simply for manufacturing the AR-15. In fact, we believe that Remington and other manufacturers’ production of the AR-15 is essential for our armed forces and law enforcement,” Mark Barden and Jackie Barden wrote in the Washington Post. “But Remington is responsible for its calculated choice to sell that same weapon to the public, and for emphasizing the military and assaultive capacities of the weapon in its marketing to civilians.”

“This is not a theoretical dispute,” they wrote. “The last thing our sweet little Daniel would have seen in his short, beautiful life was the long barrel of a ferocious rifle designed to kill the enemy in war.”

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In his Monday interview, Sanders said that “unnamed candidates” had “misrepresented my views” when it came to guns.

“You’re looking at a guy who has a D, what was it, D minus voting record from the NRA? Not exactly a lobbyist for the NRA, not exactly supporting them,” he said.

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At a hearing on the Sandy Hook case in February, a Connecticut judge said that she would make a decision on whether the lawsuit could move forward by late April.

At the hearing, lawyers for the gun manufacturer, distributor and seller in the case said the lawsuit was exactly what the 2005 federal shield law had been designed to prevent.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2016

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