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Democratic Hopefuls Push For Gun Control After Oregon Shooting


Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is making a big push for gun control - this after last week's mass shooting in Oregon. In the process, she's drawing a contrast with her leading opponent, Bernie Sanders. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton hasn't always campaigned so forcefully on gun control. Democratic presidential candidates going back at least several cycles, including Clinton in 2008, were careful to show deference to gun owners, hunters, the Second Amendment. But it's different this time. Clinton came to New Hampshire today on a mission to talk about gun violence. She started by citing statistics - 33,000 people a year in America killed by guns. That includes everything from suicides to accidents to mass shootings.


HILLARY CLINTON: How many people have to die before we actually act?

KEITH: Clinton called for universal background checks, keeping guns away from domestic abusers and stalkers, and she said Congress should close the gun show and Internet sales loophole. As president, if Congress doesn't act, Clinton said she would take executive action, and then she turned to a subject that allows her to draw a contrast with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.


CLINTON: So far as I know, the gun industry and gun sellers are the only business in America that is totally free of liability for their behavior. Nobody else is given that immunity.


KEITH: Back in 2005, Sanders voted in favor of a bill protecting gun makers from lawsuits. Earlier this year in an interview on CNN with Jake Tapper, Sanders stood by that vote.


BERNIE SANDERS: If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and that murderer kill somebody with a gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible - not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beat somebody over the head with a hammer.

KEITH: Back at the Clinton event, New Hampshire state senator Lou D'Allesandro, who supports Clinton, vocalized what her allies see as a political opening against Sanders.

D'ALLESANDRO: He's going to have to dance on this one, in my opinion. I think Bernie's got a problem.

KEITH: Sanders comes from Vermont, where, he likes to point out, people have a very different relationship to guns than those in urban areas. He voted to ban semi-automatic assault weapons and wants instant background checks. But in the 1990s, he voted against the Brady Law because he didn't want waiting periods for gun purchases. On CNN, Sanders, who is usually firmly to the left of the Democratic field, made a decidedly moderate argument about gun control.


SANDERS: I want to see real serious debate and action on guns, but it is not going to take place if we simply have extreme positions on both sides. I think I can bring us to the middle.

KEITH: Clinton doesn't seem to be in the mood for compromise. At her town hall event today in Manchester, Clinton called up onto stage a mother whose child was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School and who is now pushing for gun control measures.


CLINTON: You know so many of the parents of these precious children who were murdered have taken the unimaginable grief that they have been bearing and have tried to be the voices that we need to hear.

KEITH: Those voices are loud and clear now in the wake of the Oregon shooting and are resonating in the Democratic primary. But come the general election, the gun control debate won't be so one-sided, and Republicans in the past have successfully organized voters around the idea that law-abiding citizens have a right to bear arms. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Manchester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.