Clinton vs. Sanders on Gun Control? Bring it.

At first blush, you would think that Hillary Clinton would be your candidate if you want better gun control.  She has come out recently with a plan that would do two things: it would see greater executive action, and she claims that she would foment a national movement that will take on the NRA.  Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has in the past, cast some unfortunate votes in congress that cause progressives to question his commitment to full-throated gun control, such as his 1993 vote against the Brady Bill.

Nevertheless, Sanders rates a D-minus from the NRA and has consistently supported universal background checks.  But that’s not why Sanders is the candidate for you if you want better gun control laws.

The difference has less to do with gun control itself and more to do withand let us pause for emphasis here— the structural reasons why we cannot have sensible gun control laws in the first place.

In other words, it has everything to do with campaign finance reform.

Hillary Clinton’s two-prong approach is commendable, but structurally flawed.  First, she maintains that she will initiate executive actions to curb gun violence.  Well, guess what.  According to Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, President Obama has already issued 23-25 executive orders in his presidency in an attempt to curb gun violence.  How is that working out?

More interestingly, Hillary Clinton says she will use the bully pulpit of the presidency to foment a mass movement in this country that will take on the NRA.

Commendable.  Commendable wishful thinking.

The problem with Hillary Clinton’s plan is this.  You can march a million moms and dads on Washington— make that tens of millions of moms and dads on Washington.  You can phone bank members of congress and senators night and day until the proverbial cows come home.  You can speechify and speechify on the presidential podium until your voice goes hoarse.

But until congress is no longer a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association, nothing.  Will.  Change.

As long as members of congress and Senators are afraid to be outspent— and if they don’t take that NRA money, they will be— they will continue to vote in lock step with the NRA and will continue to stymie any sensible gun reforms.

To change this, we need real campaign finance reform.  The only serious candidate talking about serious campaign finance reform is serious Bernie Sanders.  Not Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has a campaign finance reform plan, but it’s mediocre.  She says she will appoint Supreme Court Justices that will overturn Citizens United (though, unlike Sanders, she does not say that it will be a litmus test for appointment).  The other centerpiece of her plan is a cockeyed “multiplier” system in which a public fund will match small-donor donations multiplied to some degree (to what degree she does not say).  So if I give Bernie Sanders $25, and the multiplier is 3, then the matching fund will kick in $75 and Bernie Sanders gets $100.  The idea is that this will level the playing field between small-donor and big-donor contributions.

Obviously, of course, this is nonsense.  Whether Bernie Sanders gets $25 or $100 or $500 from the small donor, it’s still peanuts compared to what multi-national corporations are allowed to give to SuperPACs and what SuperPACs in turn are allowed to give to candidates.  Only one candidate in the race on the Democratic side has forsworn SuperPAC money, and that’s Bernie Sanders.  Hillary Clinton is awash in SuperPAC money.  Her rhetoric that she will make a particular difference in the way campaigns are financed rings particularly hollow.

Sanders by contrast has promised that Citizens United would be a litmus test for his Supreme Court justices to be appointed.  He has also repeatedly stated his support for public campaign financing with equal distribution of resources to candidates.  That way Candidate A cannot outspend Candidate B, and instead, the marketplace of ideas will determine the outcome rather than the, you know, literal marketplace.

With spending caps and public financing in place in a post-Citizens-United landscape— let’s bring it back to guns now— congress would then be free and clear to vote its conscience on gun control.  It would be free to reflect the actual will of the constituency rather than the will of a lobby to which it is beholden to fund its campaign advertising.

The corporate media, of course, hates Sanders’s proposal, because it would limit how much air time a candidate can buy from the corporate media.  This may have just a tad to do with the indifferent, or outright unfavorable, treatment Sanders routinely receives in the corporate media.

The case for Sanders on gun control is admittedly more complex than the case for Clinton.  Do I wish Sanders had voted for the Brady Bill?  Of course; history records that the Brady Bill was the right bill at the right time, though we have seen important provisions of it lapse, thanks to the muscle of the NRA.  However, Hillary’s plan of executive action— which has been ineffectual in the hands of Obama, who almost everyone believes is sincere and committed to gun control— and marshaling public sentiment— though one hesitates to see how public sentiment against guns could be more marshaled after Sandy Hook— has little chance to succeed because the plan does not attack the problem structurally.

Structural problems require structural solutions.  The candidate with the structural solution in this case is Bernie Sanders.

-Robert Gross

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