Election 2020

Were Obama's Gun-Control Measures Timed to Help Hillary Clinton?

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

President Obama announced his gun-control executive actions as soon as he got back from his Hawaii vacation in January — in time to boast of his action in his final State of the Union address Tuesday, but also just a few weeks out from the Iowa caucus and first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary.

Before he even announced a word of his proposals, Hillary Clinton was singing the praises of the executive orders on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

“When I came out with my proposals for common sense gun safety measures, I did say that in the absence of congressional action, I would use executive authority to go as far as would be possible under the law and I applaud the president for taking a hard look at that and I believe he will take some actions to require more gun sellers to do background checks,” Clinton said Jan. 3.

Her campaign stressed that she had “stood up to the gun lobby” throughout her career — with swings, predictably, at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for supporting gun rights.

Sanders has slashed his deficit against Clinton in Iowa from an 18 point margin in a December Gravis poll to the latest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll within the margin of error: Clinton 48 percent, Sanders 45 percent. In the same poll in New Hampshire, Sanders leads Clinton by 4 points.

And Sanders leads Clinton in electability: the NBC poll showed Sanders beating Donald Trump by 13 points in Iowa and 19 points in New Hampshire, while Clinton led Trump by 8 points in Iowa and edged him out by 1 point in New Hampshire. Clinton lost to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), while Sanders walloped him.

“We started at national polls at about 3 percent. I think most of the recent polls have us ahead in New Hampshire,” Sanders told ABC on Sunday. “I think we’re gaining steam here in Iowa. I think we have an excellent chance to win here… We’re doing much better with independents. We even draw a little bit better with Republicans.”

But Clinton was conveniently handed a high-profile issue with which to cudgel her closest competitor in a last-minute campaign blitz — even though Sanders came out in support of Obama’s plan.

Sanders voted against the Brady Bill when he was in the House, and his votes as senator have included joining with Republicans on the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, which would have guaranteed veterans due process rights in being deemed “mentally defective” by the VA and having their ability to own a gun stripped away.

He’s been questioned about his position on guns on the campaign trail, and hasn’t swayed. “If somebody has a gun and somebody steals that gun and shoots somebody, do you really think it makes sense to blame the manufacturer of that weapon?” he said at a July forum when asked about his vote to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits. “If somebody assaults you with a baseball bat, you hit somebody over the head, you’re not going to sue the baseball bat manufacturer.”

Clinton began fresh attacks on Sanders’ gun record last week, prompting his campaign to note that she “has a record of flip flops on – among other issues – gun safety.”

“Today she’s attacking Bernie on guns. Eight years ago she attacked Barack Obama on guns,” said Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver.

She called Obama “elitist and out of touch” over what she called his “demeaning remarks” about gun owners and sent out a campaign mailer attacking his gun-control record. Obama fired back that she was acting like Annie Oakley.

“Maybe Secretary Clinton should apologize for attacking the president in 2008 because he was too strong on gun control,” Weaver said. “As is the case with so many issues on which she has flip flopped, voters have to ask themselves which Hillary Clinton is asking for their vote.”

Clinton responded Sunday on CBS, charging that when she and Obama and Sanders were all serving in the Senate “two of us voted against what the NRA says was the most important piece of legislation in 20 years for the gun lobby.”

“I think he has been consistently refusing to say that he would vote to repeal this absolute immunity from any kind of responsibility or liability. It’s the only industry in our country where we have given that kind of carte blanche to do whatever you want to do with no fear of legal consequences,” she said.

“…And he often says, ‘Well, look, I’m from Vermont and it’s different. It’s not like being in New York City.’ Well, in fact, the other senator from Vermont, Senator Leahy, voted with President Obama and myself. I think that the excuses and efforts by Senator Sanders to avoid responsibility for this vote which the NRA hailed as the most important in 20 years, points at a clear difference.”

Sanders stressed on ABC that the immunity bill “was a complicated piece of legislation.”

“There were aspects of it that were absolutely right. There were aspects of it of — that were wrong,” the senator said. “But as the secretary knows, that for many weeks now, I said of course I’ll be happy to take a look at that complicated piece of legislation and deal with it and get rid of those parts of it that are wrong.”

“I will vote to revise that bill. There are parts of it that made sense to me… If you have a small gun shop owner in Northern Vermont who sells a gun legally to somebody and then, you know, something happens to that guy, he goes nuts or something, and he kills somebody, should the gun shop owner be held liable? I think not,” Sanders continued.

“On the other hand, if you have a manufacturer that is sending guns into an area and really knows that those guns are not being used by the people or bought by the people in that area but are being sold to criminals, should we hold that manufacturer liable? Absolutely.”

By Sunday afternoon, Clinton was sending out a record of Sanders’ votes on food-industry, telemarketer and health insurers immunity.

“Senator Sanders’ record shows he is willing to hold most industries accountable for their abuses, but not gun manufacturers. It makes zero sense to provide an exception for the gun industry,” said campaign chairman John Podesta. “If Senator Sanders wants to make good on his pledge to support commonsense gun safety measures, he ought to commit to fully repealing the immunity he voted to extend to the gun manufacturing industry. The NRA said this was its biggest priority in 20 years, and Senator Sanders still refuses to admit he got it wrong.”

Clinton’s camp then followed that up by announcing the endorsement of gun-control advocates Mark Kelly and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.). Both were at the White House for Obama’s announcement of his executive actions.

“As President Obama said last week, we must hold our leaders accountable for continuing to put the interests of the gun lobby ahead of the safety of American families,” Clinton said in a statement, adding a shot at Sanders: “We need a president who will hold gun makers and sellers accountable, not provide them with sweeping immunity from lawsuits.”