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- Clinton's comments set off a flurry of Dem on Dem attacks, including several aimed at Sanders for his stance on firearms
- He voted against bill that required sellers to perform background checks & did not support a measure to make gun manufacturers liable for murder
- Sanders slapped her back: 'All the shouting in the world is not going to...keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have those guns'
The gloves came off early in tonight's Democratic debate, with front-runner Hillary Clinton unexpectedly throwing the first punch, hitting her closest opponent, Bernie Sanders, over his comparatively weak record on gun control.
In the first few minutes of the face-off, after candidates had finished their introductions, Clinton was asked by moderator Anderson Cooper if she thought Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont, had been tough enough on gun control.
'No, not all,' Clinton said without flinching as she showed off her progressive bona fides.
The gloves came off early in tonight's Democratic debate, with front-runner Hillary Clinton unexpectedly throwing the first punch, hitting her closest opponent, Bernie Sanders, over his comparatively weak record on gun control
'This has gone on too long and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA,' she said. 'The majority of our country supports background checks, and even the majority of gun owners do.'
Clinton's comments set off a flurry of Dem on Dem attacks, including several aimed at Sanders for his stance on firearms.
He voted five times against a gun violence bill that required sellers to perform background checks on potential buyers and did not support another measure that would have opened gun manufacturers up to liability lawsuits from the survivors of mass murders and the families of their victims.
That bill, he said tonight was 'large and complicated,' and that is why he was against it, though he is 'of course not, in favor of shielding gun makers from reasonable lawsuits.
Unlike Sanders, Clinton pointed out that she did vote in favor of ending the immunity provision when she represented the state of New York and said, '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,' she said. '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.'
Sanders, first asked about firearms by Cooper, noted that he has a D- rating from the National Rifle Association, the premier gun lobbying association, and said he would expand instant background checks, provide mental health counseling to everyone who needs it and close the 'terrible' gun show loophole and crack down on strawman purchases if it were up to him.
Responding to Clinton's attack, he said, '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.'
Jumping in the discussion, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told his fellow debaters, 'Look, it's fine to talk about all of these things - and I'm glad we're talking about these things.
But, he said, 'I've actually done them.'
O'Malley drew attention to the in-audience presence of Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessie was killed in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting.
'Now, to try to transform their grief, they went to court, where sometimes progress does happen when you file in court,' O'Malley said, 'but in this case... the game was rigged.
He said that not only was their case against a man who sold the shooter 4,000 rounds of ammunition tossed from court, the Phillips' 'were slapped with $200,000 in court fees because of the way that the NRA gets its way in our Congress and we take a backseat.'
'It's time to stand up and pass comprehensive gun safety legislation as a nation,' he said.
THAT WAS QUICK: Clinton's comments set off a flurry of Dem on Dem attacks, including several aimed at Sanders for his stance on firearms. The debaters are seen here from left to right: ex-Senator Jim Webb, Sanders, Clinton and former Governors Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee
Sanders handled O'Malley the same way he approached Clinton's slam on his gun record and said, 'We can raise our voices, but I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not.'
'Our job is to bring people together around strong, commonsense gun legislation,' he said. 'I think there is a vast majority in this country who want to do the right thing, and I intend to lead the country in bringing our people together.'
O'Malley tried to tell him it's not about rural versus urban, as his state includes areas that fall into both categories, setting off a new round of sparring.
'I have an F from the NRA, senator,' O'Malley shouted at him at one point, accusing Sanders of 'pandering' to the organization.
Sanders said he was not, and charged that the ex-Baltimore mayor and governor has 'not been in the United States Congress.'
'Well, maybe that's a healthy thing,' O'Malley told him, earning laughter from the live audience.
Clinton jumped on offense early in the debate - but not before Cooper could ask her about her own flip-flopping on issues that Sanders has stayed the course on.
The former first lady he said has been accused of changing her 'positions based on political expediency.'
'Will you say anything to get elected?' he asked.
Clinton argued that she had 'been very consistent.'
'Over the course of my entire life, I have always fought for the same values and principles, but, like most human beings - including those of us who run for office - I do absorb new information. I do look at what's happening in the world,' she said.
A criticism lobbed at Clinton, including from her opponents, is that she is moving to from the center to the left in order to win the Democratic nomination.
'I'm a progressive,' she asserted tonight. 'But I'm a progressive who likes to get things done.'
It was a slam on Bernie Sanders, who she's said implied does not have pragmatic proposals.
'I know how to find common ground, and I know how to stand my ground, and I have proved that in every position that I've had,' she said - 'even dealing with Republicans who never had a good word to say about me, honestly.'