- Les PaynePulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former editor at Newsday.
- D. Watkinscolumnist for Salon. He is a professor at Goucher College in Baltimore and runs a creative writing workshop at The Baltimore Free School. His debut essay collection is The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America.
Arguably the most contentious moment of the night was the presidential candidates’ debate over gun control, which has become a major campaign issue in the wake of deadly school shootings in Oregon and beyond. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley both criticized Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ track record on gun control, which they said was not tough enough.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, one of the issues that did get a lot of attention and that sparked quite a bit of a back-and-forth between the candidates was the issue of gun control. This is Anderson Cooper questioning Bernie Sanders’ 2005 vote to shield gun manufacturers from liability and lawsuits over shootings.
ANDERSON COOPER: Do you want to shield gun companies from lawsuits or not?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Of course not. This was a large and complicated bill. There were provisions in it that I think made sense. For example, do I think that a gun shop in the state of Vermont that sells legally a gun to somebody, and that somebody goes out and does something crazy, that that gun shop owner should be held responsible? I don’t. On the other hand, where you have manufacturers and where you have gun shops knowingly giving guns to criminals or aiding and abetting that, of course we should take action.
ANDERSON COOPER: Secretary Clinton, is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?
HILLARY CLINTON: No, not at all. I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long, and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA. The majority of our country supports background checks, and even the majority of gun owners do. Senator Sanders did vote five times against the Brady Bill. Since it was passed, more than 2 million prohibited purchases have been prevented. He also did vote, as he said, for this immunity provision. I voted against it. I was in the Senate at the same time. It wasn’t that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America. Everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers. And we need to stand up and say, “Enough of that. We’re not going to let it continue.”
ANDERSON COOPER: We’re going to bring you all in on this, but, Senator Sanders, you have to be able to respond.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As a senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton, that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want, and that is keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have those guns, and end this horrible violence that we are seeing.
MARTIN O’MALLEY: Senator, it was not about rural and urban.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It is exactly about rural.
MARTIN O’MALLEY: Have you ever been to the Eastern Shore? Have you ever been to Western Maryland? We were able to pass this and still respect the hunting traditions of people who live in our rural areas. And we did it—
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Governor, you—
MARTIN O’MALLEY: —Anderson, by leading with principle, not by pandering to the NRA and backing down to the NRA.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, as somebody who has a D-minus voting record, I don’t think I’m quite—
MARTIN O’MALLEY: And I have an F from the NRA, Senator.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I don’t think I am pandering. But you have not been in the United States Congress.
MARTIN O’MALLEY: Well, maybe that’s a healthy thing.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: And when you want to, check it out.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That last challenge was from former Governor Martin O’Malley. Les Payne, the issue of how the candidates dealt with gun control? And how big an issue do you think it’s going to be in the upcoming presidential campaign?
LES PAYNE: I think, for the debate, what Hillary was doing cleverly there, tactically, she declared herself a progressive, not a moderate, and she was taking this issue to put herself to the left of Bernie Sanders. And I think that was a tactical move on that. She put a lot of energy and a lot of emotion in that. I think that was a tactical debate tip. And those of us who know debates, that’s what that was. She was putting herself to the left of him on an issue, and he’s supposed to be the progressive and the leftist. She was just really digging in on this ground, and I think that—and as far as what’s the public concern, I mean, it’ll continue to play. I mean, gun control is a major issue, I think, between both parties.
AMY GOODMAN: D. Watkins, what does gun control mean to you?
D. WATKINS: I feel like everyone’s saying what they’re supposed to say, but they’re not putting out any real ideas. Tougher gun laws, a tougher screening process, get them out of the hand that people—get them out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them—no, like, you need to flesh out a plan that’s assessable to everyone, that everyone can understand, because the people who praise guns, that love guns, aren’t the people who are being shot. You know, so, we need to move extremely, extremely far left on this issue, because—
AMY GOODMAN: Your brother was shot?
D. WATKINS: My brother was murdered. And a lot of my friends were murdered, too. I hate guns. And honestly, I feel like—I feel like if you want to own a gun in America, one of the qualifications should be you should have to be shot, so you can know what it feels like. And if you like how it feels and you survive, then you should be able to get a gun. That’s how I feel about guns. I don’t think—I think these people are playing. And I think that people who love guns and buy guns and hunt and praise them and all that, they vote. So they’re not going to—they’re not going to be—they’re going to be tough enough to get the left, but not so tough that the people who could potentially be in the middle—you know, so they won’t run away. And we need to get away from that, because, again, you know, these shootings are happening everywhere, so it’s not just people who are being killed in neighborhoods like where I come from, but now people in the suburbs are getting shot, you know, with these mass shootings and everything. So, don’t wait until it’s your child or your family member before you want to get tough on guns. Like, you need to get on board now, because nothing positive comes from it. I never hear anybody say, “Oh, well, this guy had a gun, so he saved the day.” Like, I never hear that story.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, not only what’s happening in this country, but what’s happening around the world. We’re talking about the first Democratic presidential debate. Our guests are Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate; D. Watkins, who lives in Baltimore, wrote the book The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne; and in Atlanta, Zaid Jilani, staff writer at AlterNet. Stay with us.