In light of a recent mass shooting at Oregon's Umpqua Community College, debate moderator Anderson Cooper reminded Sanders that he voted against the 1993 Brady bill, which established mandatory background checks. The CNN anchor also pointed out that Sanders previously supported shielding gun manufacturers from legal responsibility for such massacres, even though the senator recently signaled he was open to revisiting that issue.
In response, Sanders said he had a D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association and pointed out that he has long backed assault weapons bans and mental health counseling for those in need. But Cooper again pressed Sanders on whether he would shield gun manufacturers from litigation.
"Of course not," the self-described Democratic socialist replied. "That was a large and complicated bill. There were provisions in it that I think made sense, for example: did 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," he added.
Cooper gave Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton a chance to respond to Sanders at that point. The former secretary of state, who also served in the Senate during the 2000s, seized the opportunity to contrast her votes on gun control legislation with those of her former colleague.
"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," she said. "We need to stand up and say enough of that. We're not going to let it continue."
"As senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton is that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want," Sanders pushed back. "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."
He went on to argue that it would be necessary to get a consensus of Americans to support expanding instant background checks, tackling straw man gun purchases and addressing mental health issues in order to curb mass shootings.