At the Democratic debate tonight, Hillary Clinton once again tried to smear Sen. Bernie Sanders for his alleged sinister fealty to arms manufacturers and sellers.
Why? Because in 2005 he voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA. (He has also more recently vowed to co-sponsor a bill to reverse it.)
Clinton tried to lay the grief of the parents of the murdered at Sandy Hook on Sanders back, explaining that "when asked whether he would support the Sandy Hook parents suing to try to do something to rein in the advertising of the AR-15, which is advertised to young people as being a combat weapon, killing on the battlefield. He said they didn't deserve their day in court."
Hillary brought it up while scrambling to respond to a question about her misleadingly blaming Vermont lax gun laws for New York crime. Jacob Sullum explained in detail how Hillary's attempting to lay any special blame for New York gun crime on Vermont and by extension Sanders is nonsense, nonsense that Clinton herself pretty much backed down by avoiding the question without just saying "Yeah I was totes misleading on that." Apparently about 1.2 percent of out-of-state guns used in crime in New York can be traced back to loose-gun-law Vermont.
Sanders has, to his credit, in the past maintained a common sense approach not clouded by a "whatever club we can use to bash gun manufacturers" emotional attitude that Clinton loves to push to a Democratic audience that loves to hear it. As for his comment tonight that "when gun shop owners and others knowingly are selling weapons to people who should not have them" that should be illegal, well, it already is.
Sanders concluded that he did not owe an apology to the Sandy Hook parents because "They are in court today, and actually they won a preliminary decision today. They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue."
A shame he seems beaten down from his earlier, correct position, which he held to through the end of last year.
I reported on Sanders sticking to his guns on this to Rolling Stone a few months ago, when Sanders said:
We have a lot of gun stores in Vermont, small shops. If Mr. Smith, the gun-shop owner, sells you a gun legally, you have your instant background check, you get the gun. Then you flip out and you shoot your wife. It happens. Should the gun-shop owner be held liable for selling you the product?…. I don't think he should. I honestly don't think it should any more than if you picked up that table and banged me over the head and killed me. Would you hold that person [who sold the table] liable? We know what guns do. Guns have the capability of killing people. But I do not believe that somebody who lawfully sells a gun to somebody else should be held responsible if somebody uses that product wrongfully….
Clinton and her cheering anti-gun fans are of course being absurdly misleading about what the law in question actually does, which gun scholar Adam Winkler explains in an NPR Fact Check:
"The 2005 law does not prevent gun makers from being held liable for defects in their design. Like car makers, gun makers can be sued for selling a defective product. The problem is that gun violence victims often want to hold gun makers liable for the criminal misuse of a properly functioning product."
In other words: If you aim and fire a gun at an attacker, it's doing what it was intended to do. If it explodes while you shoot and hurts you, though, then you can sue the manufacturer. Likewise, if you had told the gun-store owner you planned to commit a crime with that gun, your victim could potentially sue.
Basically, Clinton is mad at Bernie, and trying to make others mad at Bernie, for in the past standing behind a legal principle that people who are not in fact responsible for a tortious or criminal act should not be legally punished for other people's tortious or criminal acts. And that this principle should apply even if you really don't like those people who you want to blame for things they didn't do. Good for Bernie for his sense on the matter then, shame on him for backing down more recently.