Washington – As the competition for Connecticut’s Democratic primary voters escalates, Hillary Clinton is hoping her stance on gun control is a magic bullet in her fight against Bernie Sanders.
Clinton has knocked Sanders for voting for a bill years ago that gave gun manufacturers limited immunity from civil lawsuits.
She’s also honed in on Sanders’ unwillingness to support a lawsuit by the parents of the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012. The parents have brought suit against Bushmaster Firearms International — makers of the semi-automatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill their children.
“That he would place the gun manufacturers rights against the parents of the children killed in Sandy Hook is just unimaginable to me,” Clinton said last week on MSNBC.
Besides slamming Sanders on his failure to support the Sandy Hook lawsuit, Clinton has also reached out to mothers in minority communities whose children have been killed by urban gun violence.
Using a tactic employed in Columbia, S.C.; Milwaukee Wis.; and other cities, the Clinton campaign in Connecticut held an event in New Haven last weekend and launched “Connecticut Mothers for Hillary,” with the city’s mayor, Toni Harp, and women who have lost family members to gun violence.
Sanders’ campaign has not responded to several requests for comment.
Clinton has also run a campaign ad that features the mother of Treyvon Martin and other women whose children were slain by guns.
Clinton is not running a gun control ad in Connecticut, favoring one that stresses her ability to deal with world crises. But her campaign says she may air one before the state’s April 26 primary.
Hillary for Connecticut State Director Michael Mandell said the issue of gun violence “is personal in Connecticut.”
“Too many families, from Newtown to Hartford to New Haven, have lost loved ones to this epidemic,” he said. “And in the Democratic primary, the choice couldn’t be clearer… Our campaign will continue to make this a voting issue ahead of the Connecticut primary on April 26.”
Fifty-five delegates are at stake in that election, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a Clinton supporter, is trying to help the former first lady and secretary of state.
For Murphy, that means echoing Clinton’s criticisms of Sanders’ record on guns.
“It’s a big difference between the two candidates,” Murphy said.
He said he is “very uncomfortable to wade into a primary fight,” between two Democrats – one a fellow senator who is usually allied with Murphy on the issues.
But Murphy, who represented Newtown in the House of Representatives before he was elected to the Senate, said he could not sit out the fight because the issue is too important to him.
He also said the attacks on Sanders’ record on guns is “salient,” not only because of the Sandy Hook lawsuit, but because of other Connecticut gun violence cases that were thrown out of court – the result of the 2005 law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that Sanders once supported. PLCAA does not prevent gun makers from being held liable for defects in their design, but it shields them from lawsuits stemming out of the criminal use of their product.
That blocked a suit against a gun shop by the family of Jennifer Gauthier Magnano of Terryville, whose estranged husband Scott was under a protective order and barred from owning a gun at the time he fatally shot her and took his own life. Scott Magnano had been able to obtain a weapon at a gun shop – illegally, by stealing it, the gun shop maintains – a crime the shop did not report to authorities for three days.
Under heat for his gun stance, Sanders in February vowed to co-sponsor a bill that would overturn the PLCAA. But he told the New York Daily News editorial board last week he opposes the Sandy Hook shooting lawsuit.
Gov. Dan Malloy, another Clinton supporter, has also been her surrogate in Connecticut on the gun issue, saying of Sanders that the public doesn’t need “apologists for the NRA.”
Sympathy over Sandy Hook
Clinton is also running a gun safety campaign in New York, whose primary is April 19.
Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said the gun issue will play well for Clinton in Connecticut, because of lingering horror over the slaughter at Sandy Hook and sympathy for the children’s parents.
McLean also said Clinton is using the gun issue in retribution for Sanders’ attacks on her vote to authorize the Iran war and other votes that now make her vulnerable.
“It’s getting the media to take a look at his record,” McLean said. “Sanders spent a lot of time picking at old votes Clinton made in the Senate. This is Clinton’s way of saying, ‘Two can play at this game.’”
Sanders has not responded to Clinton’s attacks. His campaign is flooding Connecticut with five commercials, on cable and broadcast television. But they focus on convincing voters he was an effective mayor and legislator, on the need to fight climate change, on making college education affordable and, of course, on the issue that has won him the greatest support – income inequality in America and the damage he says it brings.
McLean said he believes Clinton will have an edge in the Connecticut primary.
“But she can’t take Connecticut for granted,” he said. “We are now in a phase of the campaign where Sanders is showing up [in the media] a lot more times and getting a lot more negative.”
Even a Clinton supporter like Murphy hesitated to predict the outcome.
“Connecticut has always been a little contrarian in primary elections,” he said.
Barack Obama beat Clinton in Connecticut in 2008.