Clinton, Sanders battle over ‘immunity’ for gun makers in wake of Kalamazoo shooting

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) listens to rival Bernie Sanders during the Democratic U.S. presidential candidates' debate in Flint, Michigan, March 6, 2016. © Jim Young
Hillary Clinton criticized Senator Bernie Sanders for supporting what she called “absolute immunity” for gun makers whose firearms are used in mass shootings. Sanders argued Clinton was really calling for the end of gun manufacturing in America.

Sunday’s Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan revolved heavily around the city’s water crisis and economic issues, but the candidates also had a heated exchange over mass shootings and what protections, if any, gun makers should have.

The debate began when Gene Kopf, the father of a 14-year-old girl who was critically injured during a late-February shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan, asked what the candidates would do to address America’s epidemic of mass shootings. That shooting left six people dead and two more injured.

READ MORE: Kalamazoo shooter admits he 'took people's lives' -police

“I don't want to hear anything about tougher laws for mental health or criminal backgrounds, because that doesn't work,” he told Clinton and Sanders.

Clinton listed a number of proposals, such as improving background checks and closing loopholes that allow purchasers to get around them, including when they buy firearms privately or at gun shows. She also blasted Sanders for supporting the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prohibited gun makers from being sued over crimes committed with their weapons.

“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.”

Clinton said the law “removed any accountability from the makers and the sellers. And it also disrupted what was a very promising legal theory, to try to get makers to do more to make guns safer, for example.” She added that its passage was “a terrible mistake.”

Sanders defended himself against Clinton’s attacks, saying the law had good provisions in it, including banning bullets that could pierce the armor of police officers and requiring safety locks on guns.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper then interjected to bring up a lawsuit filed by the families of victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Connecticut. The families are looking to sue gun maker Remington over the AR-15 rifle, which was used to kill 20 children in the 2012 attack, and are arguing that should have never been sold in the first place. Cooper said that because of the law that Sanders supported, the suit may be tossed out. 

Other similar lawsuits have also begun popping up. One filed last year was aimed at a gun store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that sold a weapon to a 21-year-old that was actually intended for an 18-year-old, who later used it to shoot two local police officers.

“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?” Sanders asked.

Sanders said that if the lawsuit is about targeting gun makers or sellers after someone legally purchased a gun, he disagreed with it unless they were aware they were selling a weapon to a criminal.

“But if they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you're really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America,” he said. “I don't agree with that.”

Clinton called the law “absolute immunity” for gun makers and claimed Sanders’ position was “like the NRA,” Sanders argued that Clinton was muddying the issue.

“Maybe I'm wrong on this, but what you were essentially saying, and what people are saying, is that, if somebody who is crazy or a criminal or a horrible person goes around shooting people, the manufacturer of that gun should be held liable,” he said.

“I think what you do is you hold those people who have used the gun accountable,” he said. “You try to make guns as safe as possible.”