Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) casts himself as the anti-politician, expressing outrage about income inequality and the role of money in the political system. In the candidate debate last night, Hillary Clinton and his other Democratic rivals quickly found a soft spot, a mixed record on gun control, contoured to the views of his rural state, Politico reports. It was Sanders who looked like a compromising politician, stressing his moderation. “I got a D-minus from the NRA,” he said, seeking to point out that he wasn’t totally in line with the anti-gun control forces. Instead, he supports bipartisan forms of gun controls combined with treatment on demand for people with mental disorders. The parsing took some steam out of Sanders’s performance, which on the campaign trail has drawn heavily on the notion that he’s uncompromising in his values. The exchange over gun control came just as the debate was warming up, and he seemed unprepared to find himself under attack for, of all things, being too conservative. It allowed Clinton, who often seems equivocal in comparison to Sanders, to take the initiative.
The exchange began when moderator Anderson Cooper asked the former secretary of state whether Sanders was tough enough on guns, and she quickly answered, “No.” “Sen. Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill,” Clinton declared. “Since it was passed, more than 2 million prohibited purchases have been prevented,” she said. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley joined in, criticizing Sanders for opposing efforts to make gun sellers liable for violent crimes. Sanders and Clinton both brought up ending mass incarceration. Sanders said, “Today in America, we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth. It seems to me that instead of building more jails and providing more incarceration, maybe, just maybe, we should be putting money into education and jobs for our kids.” (Sanders did not differentiate jails and prisons, but his statement clearly referred to the population in prisons as well as jails.)