Clai Lasher-Sommers, who survived being shot by her stepfather in 1970, was still conflicted in September about who to support for president. She told ThinkProgress that she believed in “everything” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stood for, but couldn’t bring herself to vote for him because of his checkered record on gun control. Those same concerns have since prompted Lasher-Sommers and other gun violence survivors and advocacy groups to throw their support behind Hillary Clinton, which could prove crucial to her campaign with the first presidential caucuses and primaries only weeks away.
“I have met her and talked to her twice,” Lasher-Sommers said. “I’m a cynic by nature, but I found that she’s authentic and she cares. She’s reached out to [gun violence] survivors in different states, and she didn’t have to do that, especially in New Hampshire, which practically has more guns than people.”
The Granite State doesn’t quite have more guns than people, but the rate of gun ownership is high and getting higher. Already boasting the 13th highest number of registered guns per capita, the number of registered guns jumped 20 percent in New Hampshire between 2014 and 2015.
“More than 33,000 people are dying every year [from gun violence],” Lasher-Sommers said. “Whoever gets into the White House needs to address this forcefully and know how to negotiate well. I watched her as Secretary of State, as the First Lady, and as New York’s Senator, and I think this is something she’s going to follow through with. She is consistent on this issue, and Bernie Sanders is not.”
Clinton is enjoying a wave of support and endorsements that specifically cite differences between her and rival Bernie Sanders on the issue of gun control. On a frigid Tuesday morning in Iowa, the head of one of the country’s leading gun control groups echoed Lasher-Sommers’ praise for the former Secretary of State. Calling Clinton “a true national leader and advocate for the safer nation we all want and deserve,” the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Dan Gross told voters gathered in Ames that Clinton is the only candidate in the 2016 truly committed to gun safety.
“Doing what I do, I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of politicians and elected officials, including a number of those currently running for president,” said Gross, whose own brother was severely wounded in a 1997 mass shooting. “And I can say with certainty that when it comes to real national leadership on this issue there is so clearly one candidate that rises above all the others — and that candidate is Hillary.”
Gross criticized Clinton’s main rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for voting against the Brady gun control bill, as well as his votes in favor of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act — which Gross called “literally one of the most evil pieces of special interest backed legislation to pass in decades.”
That law, which the National Rifle Association backed, gives gun manufacturers legal immunity when their weapons are used in violent crimes. It passed in 2005 with Sanders voting in favor.
“A small group of craven politicians, including most of the other Presidential candidates, [are] putting the interests of the gun lobby ahead of the safety of the American people,” Gross said Tuesday. “Enough! The American people have had enough and so has Hillary Clinton — and I have absolutely no doubt that as President she will continue to take on the corporate gun lobby.”
On Sunday, former Congress member and gun violence survivor Gabby Giffords also endorsed Clinton, citing her votes in the U.S. Senate against legal impunity for gun manufacturers and for federal background checks.
“Only one candidate for president has the determination and toughness to stand up to the corporate gun lobby — and the record to prove it,” she wrote, speaking for herself and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords, who now runs the pro-gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions, also praised Clinton’s promises to expand background checks and crack down on the illegal gun trade if elected president.
Then, on Monday, Sybrina Fulton, whose unarmed 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin was gunned down in 2012, published her own endorsement for Clinton.
“I know Clinton is tough enough to wage this fight. I’ve seen her do it for years,” she wrote. “As first lady, she advocated for the Brady Bill and convened meetings on school violence. As a senator, she voted to extend the assault weapons ban and against an immunity law that protects irresponsible gun makers and dealers from liability. In spending some time with her in person, I also found a mother and a grandmother who truly heard me, and understood the depth of my loss.”
As the national conversation on gun violence has intensified over a year marked by mass shootings and political inaction, Sanders has had to defend his past votes and characterize himself as a builder of bridges between the pro- and anti-gun factions of the U.S.
“I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. But we in Vermont know that guns mean something very different in cities and states all over this country than they mean in Vermont,” he told ThinkProgress in September. “Coming from a state where guns are mostly used for hunting, I’m someone who can bring people together for commonsense gun control legislation. You know, there are some who want no gun control at all, and some who want to take away every gun in America. We can scream and yell at each other, but I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem.”
In a letter to supporters in December, Sanders vowed if elected to renew the assault weapons ban and end the sale of high capacity magazines, ban those on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms, and authorize the government to research the causes of gun violence. Clinton’s policy platform calls for universal background checks, including on sales at gun shows and online, as well as the repeal of the gun manufacturers immunity law. Both candidates want new legislation to prevent domestic abusers and stalkers from buying guns.
As Sanders edges ahead of Clinton in the polls in Iowa and increases his margin in New Hampshire, the former first lady has been sharpening her attacks against him, especially on his gun control record.
In Ames on Tuesday, Clinton went after him again. “He always says, ‘Well I’m from Vermont.’ But Pat Leahy, the other Senator from Vermont, didn’t vote for immunity for gun manufacturers. So that’s not really an explanation,” she said. “Bernie and I have big differences over guns, and I think it’s important. If you’re going to go around saying you stand up to special interests, why don’t you stand up to the big special interest of the gun lobby? Instead, he voted for what the NRA called their biggest priority.”
Sanders’ campaign did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.