The tenth Democratic primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina, circled back to an issue that few previous debates have meaningfully touched on: The epidemic of gun violence in America, and congressional inaction to enact meaningful legislation to protect people from both mass violence, and everyday trauma.
CBS News moderator Gayle King opened the segment noting that the debate theater was "across the street" from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where, in 2015, a white supremacist killed nine Black people. She then broadened the conversation to highlight how gun violence kills 100 people each day, and that the government has largely failed to pass meaningful gun violence even in the light of other mass shootings.
"One hundred and fifty million people have been killed since 2007 when [Senator Bernie Sanders] voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability,” former vice president Joe Biden said, ostensibly referring to Sanders's 2005 vote on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a vote which the Vermont senator has since disavowed. “More than all the wars, including Vietnam, from that point on. Carnage on our streets. And I want to tell you, if I’m elected NRA, I’m coming for you, and, gun manufacturers, I’m going to take you on and I’m going to beat you."
According to The Guardian, there have been over 1,516,863 gun-related deaths on U.S. territory since 1968, which is indeed more deaths than American lives lost in every war since the Revolutionary War. When MTV News reached out to the Biden campaign, we were directed to a tweet by Rapid Response Director Andrew Bates, who clarified that the former Vice President meant 150,000 people, a number which refers to homicides since 2007, the Washington Post points out. (The majority of gun deaths in America are deaths by suicide.)
For his part, Sanders once again conceded, "That was a bad vote." He also pointed to his "D- voting record from the NRA. Thirty years ago, I likely lost a race for the one seat for Congress in Vermont because 30 years ago, I opposed — I supported a ban on assault weapons." On February 21, several prominent gun violence prevention youth activists endorsed Sanders's campaign.
Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out that presidents don't pass gun-reform legislation alone. "The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry," she said of the Senate procedural. "It gives a veto to the oil industry. It’s going to give a veto on immigration.... until we’re willing to dig in and say that if Mitch McConnell is going to do to the next Democratic president what he did to President [Barack] Obama."
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg echoed Warren, and further dug into Sanders. "How are we going to support a revolution, if you won’t even support a rule change?," he asked.