Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders and Gun Rights: More Than Just Electoral Expediency

What Sanders' third-party home had to say about guns in 1972


One of the signs says "Lower Taxes." Hmm.
Liberty Union Party

Bernie Sanders' uneven but real support for gun rights has puzzled a lot of pundits, who tend to describe the socialist senator's position on the issue as "to Clinton's right" and who tend to figure it's just a byproduct of getting elected in a rural state where guns are everywhere. Both of these theses are undermined by this passage in Michael Tracey's new story for The New Republic:

The [Liberty Union] party, while Sanders served on its executive committee, adopted a platform in 1972 that called for the "abolition of all laws which interfere with the Constitutional right of citizens to bear arms." This may suggest that Sanders's relatively permissive views on gun ownership, already the subject of much consternation among liberals, could be rooted in sincere principle—not simply in the practical realities of winning election in rural Vermont.

Given the Liberty Union Party's penchant for taking self-marginalizing radical stances, I think it's safe to suppose this plank was not mere electoral expediency. But it fit snugly with the New Left's general tendency to be far friendlier to gun rights than center-left liberals were. That was true not just among the violent sorts who liked guns because they wanted to use them to overthrow the government, but among those radicals who thought "armed struggle" was a dead end but saw gun laws as yet another tool for the state to crack down on militant blacks.

I have to confess a certain fondness for the '70s incarnation of Bernie Sanders. That's partly because I can't help smiling at the thought of a scruffy guy tootling along the back roads of Vermont peddling radical film strips. (I wouldn't be surprised if there are some Reason readers out there who fit the same general description, though they'd probably be chugging through New Hampshire instead.) But it's also because the Old, Weird Bernie Sanders was much more libertarian on social issues than he is now, calling for the abolition of compulsory schooling, the legalization of hard drugs, and an end to "all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or 'right' on people." He even opposed mandatory flouridation and helmet laws. Of course he was also more prone than the current Sanders to call for enormous expansions of the government's economic power. But in those days at least there was more good to take with the bad.

At any rate, the 1972 Sanders gives us another way to look at the 2015 Sanders' stance on the Second Amendment. When the candidate fails to join the liberal chorus calling for new gun controls, don't think of it as a strange deviation from his leftist ways. Think of it as one of the few places outside economics where you can still catch a glimpse of the senator's radical roots.

NEXT: Mississippi Cop Puts Man in Chokehold for 20 Minutes, Killing Him

Bernie Sanders Gun Control Election 2016 Third Parties Vermont History

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111 responses to “Bernie Sanders and Gun Rights: More Than Just Electoral Expediency

  1. If Sanders didn’t hate free markets so much, he might have actually been a good candidate.

    1. That’s a rather large fault, though.

    2. If we had some wine, we could have wine and cheese, if we had some cheese.

    3. I’m trying to figure out why Burlington was so vibrant and prosperous during his Mayoral tenure. Was it in spite of him? Was it a momentary flash-in-the-pan created by his socialism, which then caused the city to tailspin in later years? Was it because things were more capitalist-oriented at the state level?

      Downtown Burlington is now just a shithole tourist trap where bored teenaged tourists get all excited about shopping at the Gap on Church Street, as if it’s somehow different from the Gap in their hometown. I can only think that this must be some kind of result of stratospheric rent prices, which are usually the result of a non-free market.

      1. When you first start doling out the “free” socialist cash (a.k.a. “other peoples’ money”), there’s often the “flash-in-the-pan” effect you describe. Until the communist pigeons come home to roost.

      2. UVM and being something of a hub for the weed trade probably helps.

        1. Uummm…UVM is still there.

          1. Yeah, nevermind. Is it that bad now?

            1. It sucks so bad. It’s ALL chain stores & chain restaurants now. It used to be fun little knick-knack and stationery stores, with a couple of great vintage clothing stores. I know that locals have told me rent prices are outrageous down there, which is usually the product of extreme government control and a non-free market.

              Locals used to go down to Church Street for fun. Now it’s all bused-in tourists.

              1. I live in Burlington and don’t recognize the picture you paint of it. It’s not even *close* to being “ALL chain stores & chain restaurants now,” even on Church Street. It’s less “old Vermont” than almost anywhere else in the state, true, but I think this is more a function of it having been discovered more and more as a beautiful spot, and rapidly grown. It’s still very unlike most of the rest of the States, as I realize when ever I go away and come back.

                But yes, rents are outrageous. In this case I think the culprit has been simply very high demand — an occupancy rate of something like 98%.

              2. Kristen. You just described every single college town that ever existed. =)

      3. Burlington is a shit hole? Always seemed really nice when I visited, which was several times in the last few years. Oh no, a Gap store? Heaven forbid.

        Burlington seems pretty full of upper middle class liberals associated with UVM who like and are readily able to find the local, organic, non-GMO lifestyle that, while rooted in faulty logic, does tend to produce high quality products.

        1. Burlington is a sanitized shell of its former self. I used to be able to spend hours downtown and be fully entertained. Last time I went I was bored within 30 minutes.

          1. The same thing happened to Portsmouth, NH. I moved away after seeing what the tourist economy did to a once great city. If you feel like spending $30 on lunch at a “fancy” restaurant, it’s a great place to go, but it has totally lost the real vibrancy it once had.

            1. And no one put dish detergent in the water fountain anymore. =(

      4. I suspect prosperity invited a share-the-wealth attitude. They sucked in $ & leftists at the same time, often in the same hands.

      5. the 242 sorta cool, sorta.

    4. He’s the rare socialist politician with noble intentions who believes his own drivel. That’s the only explanation for why he doesn’t see the necessity of an unarmed populace. He’s too stupid to know how much coercion would be involved in implementing his economic system.

      1. I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: the man has principles. They’re wrong and terrible, but he has ’em.

        1. That’s irrelevant if his principles have evil ends, whether he realizes it or not.

          1. Not in terms of respect it isn’t. In my book, I can respect a person who has ends I don’t agree with. When the revolution comes I might have to fight them – but in the mean time I can at least respect them. I would never vote for Bernie Sanders. But at this point I can’t see anyone running for President in the Republican or Democratic primary who I would vote for.

            If I vote, and there is no guarantee I will at this point, it will probably be for whoever the LP nominates – unless they nominate Bob Barr again.

            1. – unless they nominate Bob Barr again.


              1. I always admired Gus Hall for his hardheadedness.

        2. i’ll say it again: the man has principles

          It is somewhat refreshing to see, isn’t it? Despite the fact that they are the wrong principles, it makes him much less a shitbag than 99% of his fellow politicians.

          1. I agree with that, but he still can’t be let anywhere near the controls.

            1. That. Bottom line.

              1. He, like Joe Biden and Donald Trump, should have a tattoo on his chest that says, “FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.”

          2. The guy ranting on the street corner in front of the state capitol building also has principles. He will never, ever back down on his resistance to the invasion of the shape-shifting alien menace.

            Good for him!

            I still wouldn’t vote for him for President (well, maybe, if the alternative was Hillary or Bernie Sanders).

            1. I’d write in the alien guy if that was the choice.

              Their having principles by itself is no good reason to support a person. But it is an interesting novelty sometimes.

              1. Of course I want a principled person in office. But they have to share other principles with me, like about limited government and civil liberties (not to mention the free market), or I’m not voting for him.

                It’s pretty rare to have anyone with much in the way of personal ethics or morals in political office. Those virtues aren’t rewarded in politics.

            2. Is he a follower of David Ike? Anyway, just because I respect someone does not mean that person will have my vote. But that does not mean I don’t respect the person – at least as a political opponent.

              1. He is the sort of person you can be friends with, but you wouldn’t want them to have any control over your life.

                1. “He is the sort of person you can be friends with, but you wouldn’t want them to have any control over your life.”

                  I agree with you on that.

                2. I wouldn’t want to be friends with him – he seems utterly humorous and not very smart. Sticking to one’s principles is admirable, especially in his chosen field, but it doesn’t make him a cool dude to be around.

          3. I’d fear the guy a lot less if he wasn’t so principled. The worst shit is propagated by the true believers.

    5. +23 Deodorants

      1. How many brands of toilet paper are there?

    6. Unlike most Democrats (and Republicans) he at least admits to being a socialist. Most Democrats and Republicans ARE – but do not admit it. I do not agree with him on economic issues but I respect him more than most politicians. He is open about who he is. He might make a better president than Hillary simply because I think he would be less likely to start another war.

      1. Well, as long as you don’t count class war.

        1. We already have class warfare. I mean another war besides that one.

  2. Much of the left of those days had a libertarian, “Just leave me alone” tinge. I remember one piece circa 1974 whose thesis was “The revolution is over; we won” and encouraging the counter-culture types to start communes and do their own thing. But of course the totalitarian tendencies largely took over in the following decades.

    1. Socialism and leave me alone are incompatible. Incoherency of the followers and an inability to grasp what would be necessary for what they want does not make them any more likable to me.

      1. Not entirely. Setting up a voluntary socialist commune is possible, and compatible with libertarianism. Unfortunately, in a socialist state, setting up a libertarian commune would be verboten.

  3. Jesus, the AM links are still rolling.

    1. I accidentally double posted that and now the double post is gone. Is there a new Reason comment review bot or are they actively monitoring now?

      1. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time.


        1. Those comments go directly into the woodchipper on the steps of the courthouse.

        2. At least we know what the interns are doing

          1. In between monocle polishing sessions.

    2. I think you mean “trolling.”

  4. When is everyone going to learn that since guns make me uncomfortable they should be outlawed?

    1. It’s somewhat relieving to know that something makes you uncomfortable,

      1. Hold on there, Lee. He didn’t mention WHERE the gun had to be located in order to make him uncomfortable.

      2. Are you trying to tell me something?

      3. Set phaser to “vibrate”.

  5. Hunh. I guess it goes to show that nobody is all bad. Well, except Nikki, of course.

  6. I gotta ask, why does it matter? He’s a socialist — a communist, essentially. He if ever got power, and armed citizens got between him and his socialist utopia, I have zero doubt he’d turn to confiscation immediately.

    1. Just thinking about how communism has worked elsewhere… There’s no need to confiscate a man’s gun if you’ve already put him up against the wall and shot him in the head.

  7. I like that TNR thinks it would be preferable if Sanders didn’t have a principled opinion on this subject and was just lying to get votes.

    1. I like that TNR thinks it would be preferable if Sanders didn’t have a principled opinion on this subject and was just lying to get votes.

      The author of that piece has a libertarian streak (he’s written for Reason as well as TNR), so I wouldn’t assume he feels that way.

  8. You’ve already lost when you engage in a debate with a gun grabber. They lie and offer bullshit stats and studies. The correct response is to disengage and when they finish their diatribe is to say that “I guess we just need to amend the constitution “.

    1. “The correct response is to disengage and when they finish their diatribe, slap them in the face.”


      1. I just walk away so that by the time they’ve finished their diatribe I’m well out of earshot.

  9. It’s nice that he gets ONE policy right. But let’s not get too excited – he’s an admitted socialist.

    1. errrr…nobody here (except possibly genocidal Tony) is “excited” about Bernie Sanders.

    2. He gets two things right: He’s also into freaky-deeky sexual experimentation and actually tried to tell people in the ’70s that you need to have orgasms to prevent cancer.

      How’s that for a pick-up line? 1970s Sanders is a fucking legend.

      1. That’s the pick-up line you’ll use on ESB if you ever see her, isn’t it? “Bernie Sanders says…”

      2. you need to have orgasms to prevent cancer.

        Gee, suddenly “Race For The Cure ?” seems kind of dull.

      3. ‘I consent to sex, but only for medicinal purposes.”

        1. If it’s medicinal, does the consent have to be ongoing? Might be important, legislatively.

          1. Also, is it covered by the ACA? Because i might have to change my stance on Obamacare, if so.

  10. Btw..I don’t believe Sanders is any politician he’ll say whatever gets him elected.

  11. Is there a reason the NRA gives Bernie Sanders an F?

    I believe the NRA only “grades” gun-related legislation so the fact that he’s a socialist should be irrelevant. Arguably, Harry Reid’s record on gun-related legislation is much worse than Sanders’s but he receives a B from the NRA.

    1. Then perhaps that says more about the NRA’s grading system than it does the politician.

      1. I didn’t renew my membership when they graded all the Libertarians with a question mark.

    2. Because the NRA is a bunch of asshats shilling for the GOP and sucking up to those with power like Reid.

    3. They give him a bad grade because he believes in the “gunshow loophole” myth, he believes that “assault weapons” exist and should be banned, and he believes that background checks stop criminals from obtaining guns more than they inconvenience law-abiding citizens:

      1. So he’s no different than any other progressive or centrist Dem on guns, then.

        I had heard previously that he was of the (correct) opinion that gun control measures were/are rooted in racism. The shit he says above about background checks is the same method used by racist organizations and politicians to keep guns out of the hands of brown folk.

        1. Exactly. The only difference I can tell is that he just has actual principles concerning his stance on hunting guns, and that you can’t hold manufacturers liable for the actions of others.

          So the left distancing themselves from Sanders, while essentially claiming to be for the exact same things, is enlightening.

      2. Harry Reid believes in those exact same things — and more that would be toxic to the NRA — and receives a passing grade.

        1. bassjoe: Obviously their grading system is biased and/or flawed. Patrick Leahy got a C just like Reid.

          Regardless of their failure to properly grade some, D- is probably pretty accurate for Sanders.

  12. Why do I give a shit what Bernie Sanders – or anyone else – thought in 19fucking2?

    Oh, I don’t. Thanks for nothing, REASON

    1. We had to say fucking back the because the Kaiser stole our number 7. I chased him to get it back, but gave up after fucking2 miles.

      1. -1 sticky “F” key


    2. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That is clich? but true.

      This history of thought is VERY important.

      1. Sadly, we live in a world where supposedly respected journalists say stuff like “My friends on the right don’t like to hear this, but the Constitution is not a clear document. Written 100 years ago, when America had 13 states and very different problems, it rarely speaks directly to the questions we ask it.” — Ezra Klein

        No, that wasn’t written in 1887.

        Dude, those old documents are, like, old and stuff…..

        1. We are living in a new dark ages …. will the human race have to suffer through a new (incurable) plague to come out of it.

        2. And the guys who wrote it talked liked fags !

          1. +1 House of Representin’

          2. And their shit’s all messed up!

        3. Maybe this is just me, but… All the progressives I know have a hatred for anything old. Any movies, TV, or music from more than a few decades ago is considered racist or sexist (even if it has nothing to do with race or sex). Classic literature is “irrelevant” and “outdated”. And of course, the Constitution is “a 100 year old document written by white slaveowners”.

          Does anyone else observe this, or is it just a phenomenon of my social circle?

          1. Maybe Progressives narrowly defined as the notion of progress is very future oriented. I don’t think it is a characteristic of left-leaning people in general. Most of the film buffs and students of literature I know are pretty lefty.

      2. Bernie Sanders ramblings on any subject in 19fucking72 are NOT “history of thought”. They are “derp”, and unworthy of my time.

        As are you.

        Good DAY sir!

        *twirls on heel – exits*

        1. well, good thing you took the time to come here and say that.

  13. He is still for all the gun-laws the regular left proclaims to be for. Mainly ineffective bans on all semi-auto weapons (that would be most of them), magazines over a certain capacity, and universal background checks with registration. At least that’s what he says when asked by interviewers.

    So anyone who claims he is too soft on guns, must want every single civilian owned gun confiscated and destroyed.

    Sincerely believing that your double barrel shotgun or deer rifle is OK, does not make him a support of gun ownership in general or the 2nd Amendment.

  14. Sander’s and the Liberty Union’s position on guns is not that surprising to me. Here in California there is the Peace and Freedom Party (a catch-all for all variants of socialists and communists). They have been a ballot qualified party here since about 1967. The few members I have known over the years have supported the right of individuals to have guns. Now, it maybe that come the revolution they want the guns but then afterward if/when they come to power the right to gun ownership will go away. I also have some relatives in Minnesota who long for a return to the days when the Farmer Labor Party was the dominant party in that state. Those relatives are all for the government owning the major means of production and the banks – but they are very strong supporters of the second amendment.

    1. Actually it’s more a fx of ideologic drift. Liberty Union and Peace & Freedom were mostly libertarian political parties that became mostly socialist, but may retain a lot of members from their more libertarian time. Fidesz appears to be another striking example of ideologic drift. Actually a lot of large political parties have seen a lot of ideologic drift over what with the perspective of hx is an astonishingly short time. Sometimes some like Social Credit exhibit over a longer period what seems to be a lot of drift only relative to the other parties. The smaller the party, the less inertia.

      1. It happened to Liberty Union and Peace & Freedom largely because libertarians were “politically homeless” & looking to settle down, but bad at politics.

  15. Duh. You can’t have a socialist revolution without guns.

    1. The direction our government is going proves that to be untrue. You can do it by lies, manipulation, and corruption too.

      1. That’s more of a socialist evolution.

      2. Oh they have guns. No doubt they have plenty of guns. I would dare say the people doing the investigation of the recent woodchipper incident were definated wearing guns under their jackets.

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  18. Now if they just legalize woodchippers!

  19. hopefully he is a gun rights advocate at heart….after talking to a great number of his supporters, i realize some of them might need to avail themselves of a gun when his candidacy falls far short of their expectations.

  20. I think it’s high time for “The B.A.L.L.O.T. Act” (Benevolent Act aLlowing Liberty On (a certain) Tuesday) to ensure that Americans are free to vote for the best candidates.

    1. Many people have said “Due to the fact that he his principled, all else being equal I would vote for Bernie.”
    2. Unfortunately, all else is not equal.
    3. Inequality is evil and must not be allowed to stand.

    Therefore: We must pass legislation mandating equality between Bernie and the other candidates, ensuring the human rights of the “Many People” mentioned in # 1 to vote for Bernie.

    Hot dog! I’m getting the hang of this “Legislation” business!

    1. you sure are! id vote for you, if i voted

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