FLINT, Mich. — One of the more heated moments at the CNN-MLive.com debate here Sunday came after moderator Anderson Cooper turned the floor over to Gene Kopf, whose 14-year-old daughter, Abigail, was critically injured in an Uber driver’s shooting spree on Feb. 20, which left six dead in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Kopf asked what Democratic presidential primary candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would do to crack down on mass shootings, adding that he didn’t “want to hear anything about tougher laws for mental health or criminal backgrounds, because that doesn’t work.” Kopf noted that Jason Dalton, the man who was charged with the shooting that nearly killed his daughter, “had no mental health issues recorded, and had a clear background.”
Clinton began by saying, “We have to try everything that works to try to limit the numbers of people and the kinds of people who are given access to firearms,” and she agreed with Kopf that “not every killer will have the same profile.”
But, she continued, “I also believe, so strongly, Gene, that giving immunity to gunmakers and sellers was a terrible mistake.” Clinton was referring to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun manufacturers and sellers from being held liable when their products are used to commit crimes.
Sanders, Clinton pointed out, voted in favor of that bill when it passed in 2005.
“No other industry in America has absolute immunity … and they sell products all the time that cause harm,” Clinton said. “You talk about corporate greed? The gun manufacturers sell guns to make as much money as they can make.”
Her comment drew sustained applause.
Cooper piggybacked on Clinton’s reference to the gun immunity law, noting that the “families of Sandy Hook victims announced that they are going to sue Remington, who made the AR-15, which was used in the Newtown massacre,” but that the law Sanders supported was likely to prevent them from doing so.
“Tonight, what do you say to those families?” Cooper asked Sanders.
“Well, this is what I say, if I understand it — and correct me if I’m wrong. If you go to a gun store and you legally purchase a gun, and then, three days later, if you go out and start killing people, is the point of this lawsuit to hold the gun-shop owner or the manufacturer of that gun liable?”
Simply put, Sanders argued, illegal gun sales are one thing, but he doesn’t believe that manufacturers should be held responsible for a crime committed with a product that someone purchased legally.
“I think what you do is you hold those people who have used the gun accountable. You try to make guns as safe as possible,” Sanders said.
The sort of liability regulation that Clinton supports would be too onerous and potentially threaten gun manufacturing, said the senator from Vermont. Sanders campaign has made the decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States a major area of focus, and he and Clinton have clashed repeatedly on the gun issue over the course of the campaign.
“What you’re really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America,” said Sanders. “I don’t agree with that.”