Biden Vows to End Gunmaker Immunity, Taking a Jab at Sanders

Jennifer Epstein

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Thursday he would seek to end gun manufacturers’ exemption from civil liability for gun violence on his first day in office, as he continued to draw a contrast with Bernie Sanders on firearms regulation.“It is so long past time that we correct one of the most egregious special interest giveaways the United States Congress has ever engaged in – the civil liability protections granted to gun manufacturers against being sued by the victims of gun violence,” he said at a Las Vegas community center, joined by a dozen people who lost loved ones to gun violence, including Nevada Representative Steven Horsford, who endorsed Biden last week.Biden has seized on gun safety as a key issue to use against Sanders, who is leading in Nevada polls ahead of the state’s nominating caucuses on Saturday.

Biden has criticized Sanders for his vote in favor of a 2005 law shielding gunmakers from lawsuits, which Biden said Thursday he would seek to repeal with legislation. Biden made a brief mention of the vote at Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas but didn’t say Sanders’ name. He did not directly tie Sanders to the issue on Thursday, though he did name him when discussing the Brady Bill, which the Vermont senator opposed.

The former vice president also is trying to draw a contrast with Michael Bloomberg, who has spent tens of millions of dollars on anti-gun projects but whose efforts have not led to the passage of any federal legislation. As the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the early 1990s, Biden worked on the passage of the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill.

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There were no questions from moderators on guns at the debate Wednesday, a striking omission given that Las Vegas was the site of the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history. On Oct. 1, 2017, 58 people were killed and 413 were injured by a shooter who targeted a country music festival from his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

During the debate, Biden brought up the issue twice, including acknowledging the 2017 shooting in his closing statement. Pete Buttigieg also made a mention of gun violence in his closing statement.

Sanders’ overall record on guns is mixed. He’s sometimes voted with Democrats in supporting tighter restrictions but at times has voted with Republicans. The National Rifle Association has over the years given him grades as high as C- and as low as F, according to Politifact. He voted against five versions of what ultimately became the 1993 Brady Bill, which created the U.S. gun-buying background check system and a waiting period for gun purchases.

In 2005, he voted in favor of granting gun manufacturers immunity in lawsuits involving violent crimes committed with guns. But Sanders has also cast several votes in favor of the assault weapons ban and other gun laws.Sanders has defended his past votes, saying they reflected Vermont’s gun culture but adding that he’s come to see the need for tougher laws as gun violence has become more common. Biden has accepted Sanders’ change of heart but has also continued to attack his record. “I do think he’s changed his views and I’m happy about that,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question after his speech Thursday.

Biden said Thursday that it was “just flat out immoral” that gun manufacturers are shielded from civil liability while other industries can face lawsuits when their products hurt people. “Imagine if I stood up here today and said I voted to give immunity to tobacco companies,” opioid makers, or oil companies, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Epstein in Las Vegas, Nevada at jepstein32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Max Berley, Magan Crane

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