Can Bernie Sanders find middle ground on guns?

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says sensible debate needs to overcome extreme positions on gun control.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders greets local residents while walking in a Fourth of July parade, Saturday, in Waukee, Iowa.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders wants to “bring us to the middle” on guns.

In a Sunday interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the Vermont senator discussed the need for meaningful debate on gun control in order to find a solution that balances safety concerns with respect for gun-owning Americans. Recent fatal shootings in Charleston, S.C., and San Francisco have drawn attention to gun control issues, which for years have polarized liberals and conservatives across the United States.

“We have been yelling and screaming at each other about guns for decades with very little success,” Senator Sanders said. “We need a sensible debate about gun control that overcomes the cultural divide in this country.”

More than 40 percent of Americans keep guns in their home, and 63 percent said they believe that having a gun in the house makes it a safer place, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to own a gun, the same survey found.

Advocates of stricter gun control laws argue that more regulation around who can buy and own firearms are necessary for public safety – a position they’ve pursued more vigorously in the wake of the Charleston shooting and other recent tragedies.

Gun rights supporters, on the other hand, see such crimes as further proof of average citizens’ need to arm themselves.

Sanders said he hopes to find common ground between the two extremes.

“Folks who do not like guns is fine. But we have millions of people who are gun owners in this country – 99.9 percent of those people obey the law,” he said. “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,” he added.

He noted that as a Vermont lawmaker, he values guns for sports and hunting. But there’s a big difference between a rural state where hunting is a way of life and big cities where guns are used in violent crime, Sanders said.

Vermont has one of the lowest murder rates in the country: In 2013, there were 10 murders – five involving guns – in the entire state, FBI data show.

Sanders has faced criticism for his efforts at middle-of-the-path policies, however. In 2005, he voted for legislation that would shield gun manufacturers from lawsuits by gun violence victims – a law that Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern called “the most reprehensible pro-gun legislation in recent memory.”

At the same time, Sanders touted his opposition to semi-automatic weapons, as well as his support for instant background checks for potential gun owners and getting rid of loopholes that let buyers at gun shows sidestep regulations, CNN reported.

The issue could be an obstacle for Sanders, who seeks to challenge Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s moderate approach with a progressive platform on policies such as health care reform, Wall Street regulation, and trade.

Still, Sanders has seen growing support, recently drawing a crowd of 10,000 at a campaign event in Wisconsin and raising $15 million from more than 250,000 individuals since announcing his presidential bid.

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