The Corner

The Daily News Is Wrong and Bernie Sanders Is Right

The New York Daily News is engaged in yet another contemptible hissy fit over the right to keep and bear arms. This time, the triggering event was Senator Bernie Sanders’s steadfast refusal to abandon the rule of law in favor of the editors’ untrammeled penchant for cheap emotional blackmail. Here is today’s cover:

Sanders earned this derision by giving the following series of answers during a meeting with the paper’s editorial board (I’ll quote at length so that the full context is clear):

Daily News: There’s a case currently waiting to be ruled on in Connecticut. The victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are looking to have the right to sue for damages the manufacturers of the weapons. Do you think that that is something that should be expanded?

Sanders: Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer, is that your question?

Daily News: Correct.

Sanders: No, I don’t.

Daily News: Let me ask you. I know we’re short on time. Two quick questions. Your website talks about…

Sanders: No, let me just…I’m sorry. In the same sense that if you’re a gun dealer and you sell me a gun and I go out and I kill him [gestures to someone in room]…. Do I think that that gun dealer should be sued for selling me a legal product that he misused? [Shakes head no.] But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people. So if somebody walks in and says, “I’d like 10,000 rounds of ammunition,” you know, well, you might be suspicious about that. So I think there are grounds for those suits, but not if you sell me a legal product. But you’re really saying…

Daily News: Do you think that the discussion and debate about what defines a legal product, what should be a legal product, hence AR-15s, these automatic military-style weapons…which is the grounds of this suit at the moment is that this should have never been in the hands of the public.

Sanders: Well, you’re looking at a guy…let’s talk about guns for one second. Let’s set the record straight because of…unnamed candidates who have misrepresented my views. You’re looking at a guy who has a D, what was it, D minus voting record from the NRA? Not exactly a lobbyist for the NRA, not exactly supporting them.

But it’s interesting that you raised that question. If you’ll remember this, if you were in Vermont in 1988 [gestures to Vermonter in the room], three people were running for the United States Congress. We have one seat, Vermont. Two of them supported assault weapons. One candidate, Bernie Sanders, said, in 1988, “No, I do not support the sale and distribution of assault weapons in this country.” I lost that election by three points. Came in second. And that may have been the reason, that I was opposed by all of the gun people, okay? So to answer your question, I do not believe, I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that those guns should be sold in America. They’re designed for killing people.

Daily News: So do you think then, with that in mind, that the merits of the current case are baseless?

Sanders: It’s not baseless. I wouldn’t use that word. But it’s a backdoor way. If you’re questioning me, will I vote to ban assault weapons in the United States, yeah, I will.

As a reward for having taken this eminently reasonable position on the law, Sanders was termed “callous” and accused of standing up for the interests of gun manufacturers over those of murdered children.

This is entirely unfair, and the Daily News should be ashamed of itself. In truth, Sanders wasn’t standing up for the Second Amendment per se so much he was standing up for the rule of law and the established constitutional order. When papers such as the Daily News argue that gun manufacturers should be sued if their products are used in crimes, they like to pretend that they are doing nothing more than trying to close a “loophole” (the pretense being that gunmakers cannot be sued if they sell faulty products, which isn’t true). Really, though, they are engaging in a cynical and underhanded attempt to work around the American system of government.

“If you’re questioning me, will I vote to ban assault weapons in the United States, yeah, I will,” Sanders told the board. What he made clear that he would not do, however, is to smuggle in such a change by the “backdoor.” If the paper’s editors were to get their way, the answers to the questions, “who defines a legal product?” and “what should be a legal product?” would be “juries that ignore the law and invent their own ex post facto regulations,” and “whatever a lawyer is unable to convince a jury to ban extralegislatively.” If Sanders were to get his way, the answers would be “Congress” and “guns that aren’t ‘assault’ weapons.”

Naturally, I disagree vigorously with Sanders’s support for an “assault weapons” ban, and it bothers me that he doesn’t even acknowledge that there are constitutional as well as political questions at stake here. But procedurally his approach is sound. The Daily News’s approach, by contrast, is dangerous, cheap, and undemocratic — little more than an affirmation that, having failed to achieve their aims via the appropriate channels, they are open to getting their own way by any means available. If anyone deserves to be named and shamed on the front page of that newspaper, it is the collection of clowns who run it, not the junior senator from Vermont, who, while deeply flawed, is at least willing to privilege reason over mawkishness and to place honesty above fluff.

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