Mostly False
Clinton
Says Bernie Sanders "has been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA."

Hillary Clinton on Thursday, April 14th, 2016 in the Democratic debate in New York

Hillary Clinton: Bernie Sanders 'has been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA'

Hillary Clinton continued to put heat on Bernie Sanders for what she described as his failure to challenge the national gun lobby or to support what she called a "commonsense agenda" on gun control.

Reeling from attacks over her ties to Wall Street, Hillary Clinton blasted Bernie Sanders over his own connections to a target of liberal ire: the gun lobby.

"He’s been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA. He kept his word to the NRA. He voted against the Brady Bill five times," Clinton said during the April 14 Democratic primary debate in New York.

She’s right about his votes against background checks and waiting periods, which took place from 1991 to 1993. But what about her attack that Sanders has consistently supported the gun lobby?

That’s a lot less accurate. Sanders has a mixed record when it comes to bills on guns and has actually received low marks from the National Rifle Association over his decades-long legislative career.

Sanders’ gun votes

In addition to Sanders’ Brady Bill votes, the Clinton campaign referred us to Sanders’ votes against funding for gun research, twice for prohibiting lawsuits against firearms manufacturers ("what the head of the NRA called the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in the last 20 years," said Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin), for increasing the burden of proof to prosecute law-breaking gun dealers, and for allowing firearms on Amtrak trains and in national parks.

Schwerin also noted that Sanders voted for an amendment in the Brady Bill that allows prospective gun owners to buy a firearm if their background checks are not completed in three days. This is the amendment that facilitated Dylann Roof to purchase his .45 caliber Glock pistol, which he used to kill nine people in a historically black church in Charleston in 2015.

But on the flip side, Sanders also voted against the NRA’s wishes and in favor of banning assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, regulating high capacity magazines, and expanding background checks in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre.

We pulled together his votes on key gun bills over his 25 years in Congress (votes in bold reflect a pro-gun position):

Year

Legislation

Sanders’ Vote

Result

1993

Imposes a five-day waiting period and background checks on firearm purchases, part of the Brady Bill

Nay

Passed

1993

Imposes instant background checks instead for firearm purchases, part of amendment to Brady Bill

Yea

Passed

1993

Imposes an interim five-day waiting period while while waiting to put a instant background check system in place, part of Brady Bill conference report

Nay

Passed

1994

Bans semiautomatic assault weapons

Yea

Passed

1996

Increase funding for the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention by $2.6 million to research firearm-related injuries

Nay

Failed

1996

Repeals the semiautomatic weapon ban

Nay

Passed

1998

Increases minimum sentencing for gun crimes

Yea

Passed

1999

Creates "instant check registrants" and narrowly defines "gun shows," part of Mandatory Gun Show Background Check Act

Nay

Failed

1999

Imposes three day waiting period for guns purchased at gun shows, part of amendment to gun show act

Yea

Failed

2002

Allows pilots and flight personnel to carry firearms in the cockpit

Yea

Passed

2003

Prohibits lawsuits against firearm makers for unlawful misuse of a firearm

Yea

Passed

2005

Prohibits lawsuits against firearm makers for unlawful misuse of a firearm

Yea

Passed

2006

Prohibits funds from being used to enforce trigger locks on guns

Nay

Passed

2006

Increases the burden of proof for the AFT to penalize law-breaking gun dealers, as part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms reform bill

Yea

Passed

2007

Prohibits foreign aid funding restrictions on U.S. gun ownership, as an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2008

Yea

Passed

2008

Prevents the use of funds for anti-gun programs as an amendment to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act

Yea

Passed

2009

Gives the District of Columbia seats in the House of Representatives and repeals district’s ban on semi-automatics

Yea

Passed

2009

Allows the use of firearms in National Parks

Yea

Passed

2009

Allows concealed and carry across state lines

Nay

Failed

2009

Allows firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains, as an amendment to congressional budget

Yea

Passed

2009

Prohibits higher insurance premiums for gun owners, as part of an amendment to the Affordable Care Act

Yea

Passed

2013

Prevents the U.S. from entering the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, as an amendment to congressional budget

Nay

Passed

2013

Allows concealed and carry across state lines in states where the practice is not prohibited

Nay

Failed

2013

Lists all people prohibited buying a firearm in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Yea

Failed

2013

Bans high-capacity ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds

Yea

Failed

2013

Bans assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines

Yea

Failed

 

Neither a ‘gun-lobby lapdog’ nor an ‘anti-gunner’

The Clinton campaign also noted that the NRA helped elect Sanders to the House of Representatives in 1990. While it’s true that Sanders and the gun lobby were on the same side in that election, their alignment was temporary.

The NRA backed Republican incumbent Peter Smith in his 1988 race against Sanders. But Smith didn’t stick to his guns and came out in favor of an assault weapons ban after he won.

Feeling betrayed, the gun group spent $18,000 attacking the incumbent in 1990 and issued bumper stickers emblazoned with images of Smith as Pinocchio and "Dump Pete Smith," Garrison Nelson, a professor of state politics at the University of Vermont previously told PolitiFact.

Paul Blackman, a former NRA research associate, told us in 2015 that while Sanders wasn’t exactly pro-gun and the NRA wasn’t explicitly pro-Sanders, he seemed like the lesser of two evils.

"I don't remember whether we ever made a pro-Sanders statement, but we certainly made it clear that Vermonters should vote against Rep. Smith, and everyone understood that to mean we were supporting, directly or indirectly, the election of Sanders," he said. "Our people were satisfied that he was less bad than -- not equally bad as -- Smith."

"It was an awkward situation for Bernie. Sort of like the enemy of my enemy is my friend," said Chris Graff, the former Vermont AP bureau chief. "The NRA did not campaign for him but Bernie did oppose the Brady Bill. ... I do believe that Bernie ‘owed’ the NRA when he first went to Congress."

Since 1990, however, Sanders and the NRA seemed to part ways. Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said Sanders has shown suppleness and evolution since his first days in Congress, adding he isn’t a "gun lobby lapdog."

Blackman, the former NRA researcher, said the group doesn’t consider Sanders "an anti-gunner."

Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ policy director, noted that Sanders’ latest grade from the NRA was a D. In fact, Sanders has earned failing grades from the NRA for the past two decades. His highest mark was a C-, a barely passing grade that doesn’t amount to full-throated support. (The group has not graded Sanders in 2016.)

Year

Grade

1992

D

1994

F

1996

F

1998

F

2000

F

2002

F

2004

D+

2006

C-

2012

D-

 

Our ruling

Clinton said Sanders "has been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA."

This is a stretch. Sanders won his congressional bid about 25 years ago thanks at least in part to the NRA, and has voted against major pieces of gun control legislation. However, he has also cast votes for gun control and has received low marks from the NRA for the past 20 years.

Neither the gun lobby nor gun control advocates claim Sanders as their own.

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