Debates 2020

Biden Suggests Bernie Sanders Partially Responsible for 150 Million Gun Deaths, Argues for Renewed Assault Weapons Ban

The former vice president's accusations require a couple of footnotes.


Former Vice President Joe Biden touted his record on gun control and massively exaggerated the impact of gun violence during a clumsy attack on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) at tonight's Democratic debate.

"I'm the only one who ever got it done nationally," Biden said in response to a question about why voters should trust him to tackle an alleged "gun crisis" in America. "I beat the NRA twice. I got assault weapons banned. I got magazines that could not hold more than 10 rounds, I got them eliminated."

Biden also noted his support for the Brady Act, which mandated a waiting period for firearm purchases and established the federal background check system.

This was all a wind-up for Biden's attack on Sanders, who he faulted for voting in favor of legislation that prevents gun makers from being sued should their products be used by third parties to commit crimes.

"My friend on my right and others have given into gun manufacturers absolute immunity," said Biden, before engaging in some characteristic rambling. "150 million people have been killed since 2007 when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability. More than all the wars, including Vietnam."

There were a couple of things wrong with that statement. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, to which Biden was referring, was passed in 2005, not 2007.

Even going by that earlier date, 150 million Americans (a little under half the country's current population) have not, in fact, been killed as a result of gun violence. Biden likely meant 150,000 people have been killed in gun homicides in the 15 years since Sanders' vote, which is roughly accurate.

Sanders responded by stressing that he had a 'D' rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), and that he was in favor of increased background checks and closing the much-ballyhooed "gun show loophole," a reference to the fact that people do not need to undergo federal background checks when buying a firearm from a private seller in the same state.

Biden touting his support for the federal assault weapons ban obscures the fact that researchers have found the law likely had no impact on crime rates and that violent crime rates have been steadily declining for decades.