Rick Perry vs. Bernie Sanders: More guns in movie theaters?

The recent shootings mean that the 2016 candidates are coming out with clearer positions on guns and gun control. How important is that to choosing a president?

Lee Celano/Reuters
A police officer controls entry into a movie theatre where a man shot and killed filmgoers Thursday night in Lafayette, La. Presidential candidates Rick Perry and Bernie Sanders came out with opposing views on gun control following the incident.

Thursday’s shooting at a Lafayette, La. movie theater that left nine injured and three dead, including the gunman, has once again prompted the 2016 presidential candidates to consider America's gun control laws.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) took opposing stances on how to address gun violence following the shooting. Neither strayed from his party’s ideology, but Mr. Sanders swung further left on the subject than he has in the past. Among Democrats, gun control is emerging again as a subject of discussion after a period of widespread silence.

Mr. Perry told Jake Tapper Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” the answer to gun violence is not restricting guns, but allowing more people to carry them. If more people had had guns in the Lafayette theater, he said, the gunman would have been stopped before he got the chance to cause so much harm.

"I will suggest to you that these concepts of gun-free zones are a bad idea," Perry said. "I think that you allow the citizens of this country, who have appropriately trained, appropriately backgrounded, know how to handle and use firearms, to carry them. I believe ... that if you have the citizens who are well trained, and particularly in these places that are considered to be gun-free zones, that we can stop that type of activity, or stop it before there's as many people that are impacted as what we saw in Lafayette."

Current gun control laws, Perry said, could not be blamed for allowing the shooter, John Russell “Rusty” Houser, to obtain a gun. With Mr. Houser’s history of mental health problems and run-ins with the law, Perry said he should not have been legally able to buy a gun.

"I think we have the laws in place. Enforcement of those laws is what seems to be lacking, both in Charleston and here in Lafayette, Louisiana," he said, referring to last month’s Charleston, S.C. church shooting. "We see individuals who are obviously mentally impacted. These are individuals who I think that somewhere, somebody didn't do their job in the standpoint of enforcing the laws.”

Senator Sanders might once have agreed with Perry that taking guns away is not the solution. Coming from a rural state where hunting is common and gun rights have popular support, Sanders has opposed some of Democrats’ gun control measures. But on Sunday he told NBC’s Meet the Press that he supported a nationwide ban on guns other than those used for hunting.

"Nobody should have a gun who has a criminal background, was involved in domestic abuse situations. People should not have guns who are going to hurt other people, who are unstable," Sanders said. "We need to make sure that certain types of guns used to kill people, exclusively, not for hunting, should not be sold in the United States of America."

Gun control has long been a tenet of the Democratic party platform, but recent defeats – like the failure of President Barack Obama’s proposed legislation following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. – have made candidates reluctant to bring up the subject, political scientist and author of “The Politics of Gun Control” Robert Spitzer told NPR last month.

This election cycle seems to have broken that trend, though. Democratic likely-nominee Hillary Clinton has taken a stance that was further left than Sanders’ until his recent change of heart. According to the Washington Post, Clinton’s staff has consulted ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s organization Everytown for Gun Safety on how to address gun control.

“Knowing how hard we tried in 2012 to get [Republican nominee Mitt] Romney or Obama to say something about guns,” Everytown spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb told the Post, “it is a changed world now when Hillary and other candidates are making it a part of their stump. This is the first presidential election when we’ve seen proactive statements.”

Mr. Spitzer told NPR gun control lobbying groups are on the rise. Organizations like Everytown and Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions raised and spent more money than the National Rifle Association in the 2014 midterm elections.

But whether gun control turns out to be an issue on the forefront of the 2016 presidential election is still unclear. Despite recent events and political attention, June polling data from Suffolk University and USA TODAY following the Charleston shooting showed that only 43 percent of people believed gun control should be a key topic in the election, while 52 percent did not.

“There is more desire to tighten than to loosen,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston, in a news release. “But the poll reveals a thread of feeling that nothing can be done to make any meaningful changes.”

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