On the campaign trail for the first time after the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for gun safety legislation.
“We’re now thinking about the people in San Bernardino, people who were killed, people who were attending a party, shot down in cold blood,” said the Vermont senator. “Talking about the people in Colorado Springs, we’re talking about the people in Chattanooga, we’re talking about the people in communities all over this country.”
Sanders told the crowd ending mass shootings will not be easy but that the country needs to come together around “common sense ideas which I believe could be of some help in addressing this crisis.”
The Vermont Senator called for legislative measures addressing gun violence – including expanded instant background checks, an assault weapons ban and improved mental health capabilities, a push he first called for in a statement from his Senate office after the shooting.
“Who in America does not believe that it is a dumb idea to allow people to own guns who should not have them because of the criminal background or because of mental illness?” Sanders said.
Gun control has been a touchy subject for Sanders. He’s taken heat from rivals over votes earlier in his congressional career against gun control. Sanders’ comments Saturday were among his most full-throated to date backing gun safety regulations.
“In Vermont, New Hampshire and all over this country we have a lot of people who hunt. I support people’s rights to hunt, it’s part of our cultural heritage. But people do not go hunting with assault weapons.”
At an earlier campaign stop Sanders didn’t mention gun control and hardly altered his regular comments on foreign policy and terrorism.
Between the two events rival Martin O’Malley’s campaign sent out a statement criticizing Sanders’ failure to mention gun control and his history of voting on gun control measures in the Senate and House.
O’Malley’s camp then said Sanders was “shamed” into talking about gun reform.
“That’s not leadership. That’s not having a backbone. We need a President who will stand up to the special interests of the NRA so that we can save lives. Governor O’Malley did that as Governor and he will do that as President,” New Hampshire deputy state director Matt Sheaff said in a statement.
In Keene Sanders pivoted toward the threat from ISIS.
“I say that ISIS must be destroyed, and I say that we have got to build a coalition which destroys ISIS. But I say that we are a great enough country and a smart enough country that we can destroy ISIS at the same time as we rebuild a disappearing middle class, we can do both,” Sanders said to cheers as he closed his remarks.
On Saturday ISIS hailed the two shooters who killed 14 people in Southern California as “supporters,” after U.S. investigators said they suspect one of the shooters professed loyalty to the Islamist network.
Although Sanders discussed how to fight ISIS during his campaign stops in New Hampshire he did not tie the shooting in California to terrorism or ISIS – saying that the fight against the group should primarily be carried out by Muslim nations with support from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Iran.
The Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, on Saturday addressed the couple’s ties to ISIS.
During campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton said she believes the U.S. can do more to prevent potential terrorists from getting access to weapons and carry out attacks. She spoke about how the shooting is now being considered “an act of terrorism.”
Clinton also said she would “not be silenced” on gun violence and called for comprehensive gun control legislation.