As he climbs in the polls in Iowa and around the country, Bernie Sanders still can’t seem to avoid criticism on one issue that stands out in his otherwise progressive agenda: his vote for legislation that gives the gun industry legal immunity. On Thursday, the Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator announced that he would help to repeal that bill.
Sanders said that he will co-sponsor legislation to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a law passed by Congress in 2005 that shields gun manufacturers from liability in lawsuits over gun violence. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, praised Sanders’ decision, calling it a clear victory for gun control advocates which would have been “unthinkable a month ago.”
“PLCAA really is one of the most evil special interest laws in history. It’s not hyperbole,” Gross said on a press call Thursday. “PLCAA was also a bill that then-Congressman Bernie Sanders helped to pass in 2005, ushering in a deadly decade of unchecked gun industry negligence that’s resulted in untold tragedy, gun violence, and deaths in our country.
Gross noted that Sanders’ apparent evolution on the issue comes after he met with two family members of gun violence victims on Wednesday. The announcement also comes just days before the Iowa caucuses and could help the senator reconcile with gun control advocates, many of whom have not been able to forgive him for his record on guns.
Sanders has previously argued for keeping parts of PLCAA in place, saying that the law was only intended to prevent mom-and-pop gun shop owners from liability.
“There are parts of it that made sense to me,” Sanders explained earlier this month. “If you have a small gun shop owner in Northern Vermont who sells a gun legally to somebody and then, you know, something happens to that guy, he goes nuts or something, and he kills somebody, should the gun shop owner be held liable? I think not.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) first began circulating the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, the bill to repeal PLCAA, earlier this month, and it was formally introduced on Wednesday. Schiff told ThinkProgress when he first proposed the bill that a full repeal is necessary.
“There’s no reason why any one industry should have a unique immunity,” Schiff said. “The makers of other products don’t enjoy that. Car makers don’t have that kind of immunity from liability, nor do those who make knives or those who make prescription drug bottles or anything else that may be safe or unsafe.”
Sanders has also supported other pro-gun legislation throughout his time in Congress. On several occasions, he voted against the Brady Bill, legislation that instituted federal background checks and a five-day waiting period for gun purchases. He said at the time that states should be able to set their own waiting periods. Then, in 2007, he voted for a bill to prohibit foreign or United Nations aid to be used for gun control. And in 2009, he voted to allow firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains. But his vote for PLCAA has been the most controversial.
One of the gun control advocates who met with Sanders on Wednesday was Hector Adames, whose 13-year-old nephew Josh was killed in an accidental shooting that Gross said could have been prevented had the gun company not been negligent.
“Although nothing can bring him back, the least his family deserves is justice and their day in court,” Gross said. “That justice was denied to them and today we are taking a first step in the direction where that justice will no longer be denied to other victims of gun violence.”