Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has surprised many on the left by supporting gun ownership, but he reflects the diversity of Second Amendment supporters.
MINNEAPOLIS — The popular modern image painted by the mainstream media of a gun owner is conservative, to say the least, and epithets like “gun nut” and “right-winger” often follow when guns are mentioned in many liberal outlets. The reality of gun ownership in America is more diverse, although the National Rifle Association isn’t promoting that angle, either.
Despite this widespread impression that all gun owners would vote Republican, American gun owners come from across the political spectrum. For these liberals, gun ownership is often seen as a bedrock constitutional right, guaranteed by the Second Amendment just like Freedom of Speech is guaranteed by the First. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms because: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Liberal Gun Club member Marlene Hoeber told SFGate in January 2014 that she has “really strong feelings about my distaste for the state having the monopoly on force — and about my distrust of the police.”
A recent study from Columbia University shows that as many as one in three Americans own guns. The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention in June, found a “social gun culture” — whether one’s local community favors gun ownership — to be one of the biggest factors in determining the likelihood of gun ownership. To cite one example from the study of a state where gun ownership is relatively common despite being home to a left-leaning majority, 28.8 percent of adults in Vermont own guns, though other sources put Vermont’s gun ownership rate as high as 40 percent.
Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who is running for president as a Democrat, has moderate views on gun control, a fact that may seem unexpected when compared to the rest of his platform, which includes goals like removing corporate money from politics. According to a July article from Christian Science Monitor, Sanders is merely “representing the preferences of many of his Vermont constituents”:
“For the Prius-driving, urban-dwelling, tree-hugging, Chablis-drinking secular humanists among you, it might be difficult to fathom why a former Socialist mayor of Burlington representing possibly the most liberal state in nation could care very much about the political preferences of a group of knuckle-dragging goose-stepping paramilitary neo-Nazi gun owners. But the reality is that those who own guns in Vermont, while predominantly conservative in outlook, are nonetheless a somewhat diverse and, perhaps more importantly, rather substantial group of voters.”
In fact, Second Amendment supporters and an unexpected endorsement by the NRA helped push Sanders to his first victory in 1990, reported the Washington Post last month:
“As a candidate in 1990, Sanders won over gun rights groups by promising to oppose one bill they hated — a measure that would establish a waiting period for handgun sales. In Congress, he kept that promise.”
Despite previous Sanders’ collaboration with the NRA, the organization is an unwelcome one to many on the left, whether because they support limited legal controls on gun ownership or because they oppose the organization’s overall conservative agenda. David Fellerath, a gun owner who penned a Washington Post opinion piece in June, recalled his reaction to an automated NRA fundraising phone call — “I was amused, and then insulted, that someone would think I was dumb enough to fall for such a pitch” — before arguing for stricter controls on handgun ownership to prevent mass killings.
Liberal politics have led gun owners to form new associations and gun clubs, since many groups like the NRA have an overwhelmingly conservative membership. Hoeber offered a few reasons why she joined the Northern California chapter of the Liberal Gun Club, SF Gate reported:
“The NRA is ‘a valuable organization’ that has helped educate people about the safe use of guns, Hoeber said. But in recent years, its leaders ‘have attached themselves to reactionary politics,’ she said.
‘I can’t put money into a group that gives campaign contributions to people who (say) how terribly wrong it is to walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand,’ Hoeber said.”
Yet the Liberal Gun Club, which boasts 1,000 members, might still not be liberal enough for some, leading to groups like the Socialist Rifle Association, which boasts over 3,400 supporters on Facebook. Writing in April for Free Press Houston, Jacob Santillan suggested they represent a neglected portion of the gun owning population:
“But among the golden throng of ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Gadsden flags in the gun rights sector of the political landscape, splotches of communist/socialist red and anarchist black can be found. There are even intricately elaborated Marxist cases in favor of gun rights, and people I’ve come to think of as ‘non-traditional’ gun rights advocates are too frequently overlooked in my opinion.”