Gun Rights

Martin O'Malley Attacks Bernie Sanders on Guns

A race to check off boxes on the Democratic side


Generation Forward

Several Democrats have announced their candidacies for presidency. Those not named Hillary Clinton are trying, to varying degrees, to position themselves as not just a not-Hillary candidate but the not-Hillary or even anti-Hillary candidate. It's a hard-to-miss lesson from 2008—there's likely only room for one anti-Clinton candidate, as Barack Obama and John Edwards' trajectories in the 2008 primaries illustrated.

Almost seven months before the first primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a nominal independent from Vermont, has emerged as the first of the anti-Hillary Clinton candidates. He's the only candidate other than Clinton to hit an average of double digits in the polls—Vice President Joe Biden holds that distinction but he's not running yet, and hasn't sent out any signals that he will be either. And new polls in Iowa and New Hampshire from Bloomberg Politics show Sanders at 24 percent in both states. Clinton has 50 percent in Iowa and 56 percent in New Hampshire. Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, polls at 2 percent in both states.

In that context, Generation Forward, a super PAC supporting O'Malley, is taking out an ad buy aimed at Sanders, attacking the self-described socialist's record on gun control as not liberal enough. The Hill reports:

A super-PAC supporting former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for president will launch a five-digit digital ad buy in Iowa on Thursday attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over his positions on gun control.

"Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, and Bernie Sanders voted to give gun manufacturers protections from victim lawsuits," the ad says. "The NRA even paid for ads attacking a Sanders opponent. Bernie Sanders is no progressive when it comes to guns."

Sanders himself has noted he received a D from the National Rifle Association, and says that describing him as anti-gun control is inaccurate. Nevertheless, he won his first Congressional race in 1990 against a Republican, Peter Smith, who had defeated him in 1988 but voted for an assault weapons ban in the meantime, earning the ire of the NRA, which spent money in Vermont to help defeat him.

Vermont, one of the most liberal states in the union, nevertheless has among the laxest gun laws on the books. It may be too much nuance for a liberal base that's become worryingly historically illiterate, but opposition to gun control comports with liberal values when those values are imbued with a healthy distrust of central authority, including government. There's, unsurprisingly, a racial component to this too—much of the contemporary gun control infrastructure was created in the 1960s as a response to fear of armed black people.

Today, O'Malley can shore up his bona fide liberal credentials by pointing to gun control laws he passed in Maryland that had the effect of ensnaring more people, mostly black men, into the carceral state. In the aftermath of the racially motivated massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C., O'Malley was prepared to talk about gun control and black-on-black violence, but not racism.

O'Malley had a powerful influence of the treatment of black men when he was mayor of Baltimore too. According to Baltimore writer David Simon, the creator of HBO's The Wire, as mayor O'Malley helped create a police culture that devalued black life and treated young black men like targets for crime numbers. Simon still supports him says he'd still likely support O'Malley if he were the nominee because of his stance on issues like the death penalty and gay marriage. In Maryland, even fear of a black man armed with a knife has contributed to laws whose enforcement can lead to deadly encounters with police, as in the case of Freddie Gray. "Black Lives Matter" protesters demonstrated at O'Malley's campaign kick off last month, but none of the Democratic candidates, Clinton, Sanders, O'Malley, or the other(s) have even begun to address issues of police violence or the failure big government has been for black people, and white, in places like Baltimore and Detroit.

Watch Reason TV's interview with LEAP's Neill Franklin on how O'Malley helped create the Baltimore riots: