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How Bernie Sanders' Position On Gun Control Has Evolved Over Time

Bernie Sanders standing against a blue sky.
Paul Sancya
/
Associated Press
Unlike many of his key policy positions, Sen. Bernie Sanders' stance on gun control has changed over time. 'Seven Days' reporter Paul Heintz looks at that evolution in this week's cover story.

Many of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' policy positions have stayed remarkably consistent throughout his decades in politics, but his position on gun control has changed over time. His complex relationship with the issue goes all the way back to the first time he won statewide office in Vermont.

Political reporter Paul Heintz takes a deep-dive into Sanders’ history on gun control in the cover story of this week’s Seven Days.

Paul Heintz spoke to VPR's Henry Epp. Listen to their conversation above.

When Sanders launched his presidential campaign earlier this year, he included strong support for gun control measures among his policy positions. But for years, Sanders said that most gun control decisions should be left to the states. Sanders repeated that stance to Heintz in an interview as recently as 2013, just a few months after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.

"And he expressed some skepticism in that interview about whether he would support some of the new measures that President Obama at the time was proposing, including a new assault weapons ban," Heintz said.

Sanders ultimately did support that legislation, which failed to pass.

Read Heintz's story in Seven Days here.

Going further back, gun rights played a crucial role in Sanders' first election to statewide federal office in 1990. In 1989, Republican Rep. Peter Smith reversed his position on gun control, supporting a ban on semi-automatic weapons following a school shooting in California. That drew the ire of gun rights supporters in Vermont.

"This provided an opening for Sanders, and he deftly exploited it," Heintz said. "He spent a lot of time speaking with hunters around the state. And he always made clear that his position on that particular issue, on the assault weapons ban, was the same as Smith, but he argued that he would be truthful with them about it."

Sanders ultimately won that election, and he's held federal office in Vermont ever since.

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