Democratic candidates take on gun control

John Cervera / Contributing Writer

Last week, Democratic presidential candidates squared off in a CNN-hosted debate in Las Vegas. However, the word ‘debate’ may be misleading.

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Web participated in a discussion that lacked the kind of entertaining political drama brought by the likes of Donald Trump. Rather, this was a subdued issues-based open forum.

In one of the more memorable moments of the night, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders declared that no one wanted to hear about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails” and would rather focus on the issues. This was in reference to Clinton’s use of private servers during her tenure as Secretary of State. This was followed by raucous applause and a handshake between Sanders and Clinton.

That’s not to say that the debate was tame, as Anderson Cooper pulled no punches.

“Will you say anything to get elected?” he asked Hillary Clinton early in the debate.

This comment was in reference to Clinton’s notoriety for switching political positions, which critics say are solely for political reasons. A defensive Clinton retorted that her positions shifted as she “absorbed information.” Cooper wasted no time in bringing up the issues and started with guns.

This was the highlight of the debate. Democrats engaged in a discussion in which voters finally heard the presidential candidates talk about a topic where there has been little discourse for the 2016 elections: gun violence.

America has a massacre problem. From the Sandy Hook tragedy to the killings in Oregon, a swath of school shootings occurring across the country over the past several years has generated furious discussions about firearms.

These events have prompted numerous frustrated calls by the Obama administration for further expanding gun control laws as well as vehement rebukes by conservatives calling instead for allowing more guns on campus.

Despite evidence that less guns means less gun deaths overall, states like Texas and Florida are seriously considering campus carry laws.

The Republican debates have not discussed this issue in depth. The lack of substantive discussion on gun control on the Republican side is unacceptable to the American public and a disservice to the many victims’ families.  We need to face this complicated but critical issue.

The Democratic candidates have seemed to heed this call. The biggest talking point for candidates involved bashing the National Rifle Association, whose outsized influence in Washington and on politicians was widely attacked. 

Clinton drew massive applause when she fiercely claimed how it was “time to stand up to the NRA.” The group has long been the bane of gun control advocates, fighting them at every turn for even the slightest restrictions to guns.

Governor Martin O’Malley described the extent of the NRA’s political schemes and proves the intransigence of the group on any gun control legislation. In his state of Maryland, O’Malley attempted to curb gun violence through legislation to increase restrictions.

The NRA sent letters to the state’s rural dwellers claiming that the law would strip them of their longstanding hunting traditions. O’Malley responded in kind and wrote his own letters correcting the group’s misrepresentation of the law. The bill later became law in Maryland.

Sanders, often deemed the most radical of the bunch, actually took a less aggressive stance on the matter.

“All the shouting in the world,” he claimed, “won’t keep guns from the hands of the wrong people.”

Clinton took this moment to critique the senator, questioning the Vermont senator’s stance by mentioning his opposition to the Brady Bill. This appeared to fluster Sanders.

Lincoln Chafee even chimed in that the audience was “…looking at a man who was given an ‘F’ rating by the NRA”, referring to the NRA’s grading scale for politicians’ stances on gun control. Only Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran, was mute on the matter, being the only candidate to receive an ‘A’ rating by the NRA.

In the end, the debate did little to shake things up. Clinton remains the clear frontrunner. Sanders remains on her coattails with his democratic socialist rhetoric while O’Malley, Jim Webb and Chafee languish in the polls.

It’s clear that the Democrats are not looking away from one of our nation’s most pressing issues. Regardless of one’s stance on gun ownership and the Second Amendment, it is an indisputable fact that the United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world.

This reality and its relationship to mass shootings must be analyzed and it seems the only people willing to do that is the Democratic Party.


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