Bernie Sanders Pushes For Gun Control After San Bernardino Shooting

“We need to significantly expand and improve background checks."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pushed Thursday for "common-sense" gun control.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pushed Thursday for "common-sense" gun control.

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday that Congress ought to take action to stem gun violence in the wake of the latest mass shooting.

Wednesday's massacre, which took place at a center for individuals with disabilities in San Bernardino, California, left 14 people dead and at least 21 others injured. The following day, Sanders paraphrased President Barack Obama's call for additional gun control.

“What he said is, this is not an easy problem to solve," Sanders said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. "But just because it is not an easy problem to solve does not mean that we should not do everything that we can.”

As an independent senator from the rural state of Vermont, Sanders’ past positions on gun control have been somewhat out of step with the Democratic Party. In 1993, he voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which would have instituted a national criminal background check system.

But Sanders has since been evolving on the issue, and now favors background checks. In 1997, he voiced his support for banning assault weapons, saying,“I'm pro-hunting, but no one needs an AK-47 to hunt."

Sanders now has an F rating from the National Rifle Association. In his speech Thursday, he pointed out a number of specific legislative actions that have strong public support.

“We need to significantly expand and improve background checks,” Sanders said. “Who is arguing that people who should not have guns because of a criminal background, because of mental problems, should ... be able to purchase guns? Very few Americans disagree with that.”

Sanders also spoke in favor of banning assault weapons, declaring gun trafficking a federal crime and cracking down on proxies who purchase guns on behalf of those who can’t legally acquire them.

“And very significantly,” he added, “we need to greatly expand and improve our mental health capabilities. These people need treatment when they need treatment, regardless of their income, regardless of their insurance status.”

On the issue of mental health, Sanders finds himself in agreement with some House Republicans. In response to the San Bernardino shooting, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also called for greater access to mental health services, pointing to bipartisan legislation that’s been proposed to address the issue.

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