Sanders’ Stance on Gun Violence Stands in the Way of Black Votes

Credit: Phil Roeder/ Flickr

Credit: Phil Roeder/ Flickr

Senator Bernie Sanders continues to struggle to pick up black New York voters. While the state overall has a large grassroots voting base supporting Sanders, there continues to be one knock against the candidate that Clinton is benefitting from:  his stances on gun control.

Sanders, who represents Vermont, seems to be more lenient on gun control, not supporting time limits for background checks and saying that gun control is mostly a states’ rights issue, though he supports instant background checks and federally banning assault weapons.

Clinton has crafted a dual message against Sanders stating: 1) not only can she can actually pass legislation to help Americans, but 2) much of the violence seen in New York is not only reducible if she’s elected, but may actually be somewhat the fault of the Vermont senator.

Gun violence is a critical issue in urban black communities around the nation where murder rates are high and violence, though dropping overall in comparison to the height of crime in the early 90s, continues to rise rapidly. Victims of gun violence tend to be overwhelmingly young, black and often male.

In Rochester, summer hasn’t even arrived and there have been a number of homicides. By September of last year, we had close to 150 shootings and the mass murder at the Boys & Girls Club of last year remains heavy in memory. Rochester also had the most mass murders in the upstate area last year.

While the attacks haven’t done much to reduce Sanders’ support, it’s also keeping his base from growing further as the black vote remains heavily Clinton’s. Clinton leads 65 – 28 percent among black voters, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Sanders has said again and again that he supports gun control laws to reduce the number of shootings, gun violence and murders across the nation- but why isn’t his message being heard?

The United States has one of the highest murder rates among industrialized nations.

Not only is Clinton attacking him, but Sanders may even be standing in his own way.

“I will take the following concrete steps to reduce gun violence: strengthen and better enforce the instant background check system; close the gun-show loophole; make ‘straw man’ purchases a federal crime; ban semi-automatic assault weapons which are designed strictly for killing human beings; and work to fix our broken mental health system,” Sanders said towards the end of 2015, speaking clearly about his stance.

Yet he hasn’t listed this stance on his campaign’s issues page and, even worse, part of the page’s summary states: “These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country.” He also failed to mention his stance during a speech at the Monroe Community College where he spoke to a crowd of over 3,000 local voters earlier this week. He spoke instead about the need to tackle climate change, Wall Street and a return to focusing on workers and workers’ rights- issues that while important don’t immediately impact- or rather interrupt- the lives of many urban people of color as much as gun violence.

[WATCH] Senator Sanders Speaks at MCC 

The issue of gun violence and control is a large real-world problem for most, even if it’s not so much in his home state, where a huge percentage of people own guns. Vermont is also largely rural, giving context to Sanders’ stance, which seems to be in opposition to his mostly far-left ideology.

The state has one of the highest rates of gun ownership, also impacted by it’s small population size, and yet one of the lowest rates of gun violence. The use of guns differ between urban and rural contexts, Sander said, and to attack the issue from a purely urban stance denies the truths in rural contexts.

According to the Washington Post, Ed Cutler, the president of Gun Owners of Vermont, estimated that “70 to 75 percent” of Vermont households have guns.

The state also has some of the loosest gun laws; gun owners can openly carry and there is no magazine restriction on handguns, though in January 2013, Burlington, Vermont, where Sanders resides and previously served as mayor, approved an ordinance banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines within city limits.

“(Sanders) understands that Americans in rural areas have a very different view towards guns as do those who live in densely populated urban environments,” states his advocacy site, Feelthebern.org. “Bernie believes in a solution which promotes gun rights for those who wish to possess them while also ensuring their safe and secure use so that they cannot be used to harm fellow human beings.”

The argument then seems to be that culture creates violence, not laws, but Clinton argues that laws can inhibit culture from becoming too dangerous and impeding on the rights of others. Going further, Clinton has taken her message even further to claim that many of the guns in the area are the result of easy gun laws in Sanders’ state of Vermont, which shares New York’s northwestern border.

However, Factcheck.org, a project from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania stated, “In raw numbers, 55 guns out of the 4,585 successfully traced in 2014 in New York came from Vermont. That’s 1.2 percent of the guns recovered and traced. That’s a small amount. Even if we take out the guns that were traced to New York, and look only at the out-of-state guns (3,188 total), Vermont’s guns make up 1.7 percent of traced guns.”

It comes down then to New York State voters who will need to analyze both stances to understand how their legislation would help them and evaluate their own ideas about how far-reaching gun-control legislation should be.

Both are campaigning well, and though Sander is 17 points behind Clinton in official polls released this week, he’s hoping that his crowds, which have drawn thousands across the state, will turn up in high numbers to support him. A rally in New York City earlier this week, just six days before the New York State primary, drew 27,000 people. However, Sanders needs to recognize that his stances on gun violence may alienate many of the voters he needs most and he needs to speak directly to these people to battle Clinton’s message that he is more pro-gun than he actually is.

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