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Bernie Sanders has drawn criticism recently on two issues. The first is on race. The second is his past record on gun control.

The truth is that neither of these issue controversies really amount to anything. So far as civil rights are concerned, Bernie has a record going back to the 1963 March on Washington, when he organized students at the University of Chicago to go and participate. ­Sanders was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963 as a 22-year-old student at the University of Chicago.

“It was a question for me of just basic justice—the fact that it was not acceptable in America at that point that you had large numbers of African-Americans who couldn't vote, who couldn't eat in a restaurant, whose kids were going to segregated schools, who couldn't get hotel accommodations living in segregated housing,” he told the Burlington Free Press "That was clearly a major American injustice and something that had to be dealt with.”

Not enough people realize that, even people who support him for President. And within the past few days, following the dreadful killings in Charleston, he wrote the following letter to all his supporters.

“What transpired in Charleston, South Carolina, last night was not just a tragedy, it was an act of terror. Nine of our fellow Americans were murdered while praying in a historic church because of the color of their skin. This senseless violence fills me with outrage, disgust, and a deep, deep sadness. This hateful killing is a horrific reminder that, while we have made important progress in civil rights for all of our people, we are far from eradicating racism. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one that has been attacked, burned, and rebuilt throughout its 200-year history. While their community mourns now, they will rebuild, and they will emerge stronger than before. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and their congregation. But we can add our actions to our prayers. The families and the community that have been hurt so very badly by this brutality need our help. Let us stand with them in their time of mourning.”

And he ended by suggesting that his followers make a donation to the Emanuel AME Church community. I think that he was really speaking from the bottom of his heart.

So far as guns are concerned, there is definitely a difference of opinion among commentators.

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Bernie voted against legislation that progressives hold to be important, such as the Brady Act of 1993 (but he later supported federal registration). There is a reason for his position, though, and one that we as a nation should consider with respect to guns.

We do have too many guns in our country, and the existence of so many guns in certain places does give rise to gun murders. But the statistics, state by state, show that (for example) Vermont has a very high rate of gun ownership (42% own guns) but a very low rate of gun murders (0.3 per 100,000). New York State, on the other hand, has 18% gun ownership and 3.0 per 100,000 in gun murders. The worst place in the country in Washington, D.C. (3.6% and 16.5 per 100,000). A glance down the page will show that rural areas do a lot better than urban areas.

So gun ownership isn't the only factor. Doubtless it is also the type of gun and the society itself. Our country does a terrible job of uncovering people with mental issues who later engage in mass murders. And our society itself glorifies violence. These issues almost certainly have more impact in areas with a lot of people rather than ones which are sparsely settled.

And although we have more guns per capita that any other country, the number of gun murders per 100,000 is a much lower than in Brazil and Mexico, where gun ownership is a lot lower. On the other hand, Switzerland has a high level of gun ownership and a low rate of gun murders.

So Bernie is right: in some places (rural ones), gun ownership probably doesn't give rise to a high murder rate, while in urban areas even a low rate of ownership gives rise to high gun murder rates. Since he represents a rural state, his attitude towards guns is governed by his constituents. That doesn't mean that on a national stage he isn't going to take a different view.

In 2013 he voted for an assault weapon ban and background checks. He said at the time: “Nobody believes that gun control by itself is going to end the horrors we have seen in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., Tucson, Ariz. and other American communities,” Sanders said. “There is a growing consensus, however, in Vermont and across America that we have got to do as much as we can to end the cold-blooded, mass murders of innocent people. I believe very strongly that we also have got to address the mental health crisis in our country and make certain that help is available for people who may be a danger to themselves and others.”

Bernie has a balanced view, as always.


Michael Hertz