Sanders’ Stance on Guns Hypocritical

Chloe Vassot, Contributing Writer

If there is one word I have been using with growing bitterness this semester, it is “systemic” — systemic harm, systemic injustice, systemic oppression. I feel disgust almost every time I hear the word because systemic injustice is so entrenched in our society.

Another zealous user of the word “systemic” is Bernie Sanders. The Democratic presidential nominee is guilty of criticizing systems. He has explained at conventions and debates about how “the system is rigged” for those who are not billionaires. This rhetoric is something I can get behind, but I can’t support his policy positions that do not heed this rhetoric.

Sanders’ stance on gun control is where the discrepancy between his defaming of a largely corrupt American political system and his ideologically fueled policies is most apparent. It is a point of hypocrisy in his campaign, and while hypocrisy in politics is not exactly a surprise, Sanders purports to run his campaign on a consistent ground of ethics. On guns, he fails.

Sanders’ failure to support lawsuits or legislation that holds gun manufacturers liable in any way for mass shootings is reprehensible. He talks about changing systems, but fails to recognize that the gun lobby is a system of power deeply embedded in every level of American politics. Its influence has done the exact opposite of keeping anyone in the U.S. safe or free. People have died and will continue to die because of a lack of gun regulation, and any candidate purporting to support moral policy decisions would be remiss — or deliberately ignorant of this fact — to analyze it any other way.

Throughout his time in Congress, Sanders has supported legislation that panders to the gun lobby. He voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a special-interest act that makes gun manufacturers immune to liability lawsuits stemming from the use of their products. The families affected by the Sandy Hook shootings have filed a lawsuit to challenge PLCAA and have Bushmaster Firearms held responsible for the shooting on the basis of its militarily-influenced marketing of the weapon used.

This lawsuit is an example of those wronged by the gun lobby identifying its deeply entrenched power and demanding change. This system that allows people to own military-grade weapons for personal use gives those individuals the power to injure or kill. Because people are fallible and sometimes violent, when the tools to kill are made available, attractive and desirable by gun manufacturers, people will continue to be killed by guns. A politician cannot ignore the systemic power of the gun lobby while promising to reduce gun violence. It is a lost cause from the beginning.

And the rhetoric of fixing mental health services — to avoid people “going nuts or something,” as Sanders so eloquently put it — is empty and, according to studies, misguided. Dr. Michael Stone, a New York forensic psychiatrist determined from his research database that it is not clear that early mental health treatment would have stopped perpetrators of mass killings or the everyday violence that perceived mentally healthy people commit in moments of sporadic anger. The Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza was on the autism spectrum, which does not increase one’s potential for violence according to the Autism Society. But people with mental illnesses are continuously scapegoated as the causes and creators of this violence.

If manufacturers stopped profiting off giving people the capacity to kill while facing no financial or legal repercussions, gun violence would not be so ubiquitous. For the sake of his campaign, Sanders has finally pledged to co-sponsor legislation that would repeal PLCAA and eliminate manufacturers’ special protection from liability. His shift in stance comes late, with little acknowledgement of the morally hypocritical position he supported for so long, and only comes because it is politically expedient for someone running for president.

I have never been enamored with Sanders’ campaign for a variety of highly cynical reasons, but I will respect him more if he addresses the ideological discrepancy of his stance on the systemic power of the gun lobby. It, too, is rigged against people who want justice and in favor of those in power who want to make a profit.