Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton signaled she’s going all-out on a new push for gun controls Monday, driving distance between herself and top opponent Sen. Bernard Sanders even as she took aim at Republican critics in Congress, pronouncing the Benghazi probe a political sham designed to derail her campaign.
At back-to-back town hall meetings in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton vowed to do everything possible, including taking executive action if elected president, to impose new rules that she said would keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people — a significant change from when she first ran for the White House.
“How many people have to die before we actually act, before we come together as a nation?” asked Mrs. Clinton at a community college in Manchester, which she said resembled the Oregon campus where a shooter killed nine people last week and reignited the gun control debate.
President Obama has been pushing tougher gun laws for years, but couldn’t overcome resistance from pro-Second Amendment lawmakers from both parties, who argue the measures would not stop criminals or madmen from obtaining firearms.
Mrs. Clinton called for expanded and stricter background checks, including prohibiting domestic abusers and stalkers from buying firearms, a ban on military-style weapons and a repeal of a 2005 law that she said grants firearms manufacturers and dealers “immunity” from lawsuits by victims of gun violence.
Another measure in her agenda was the closing of what she called the “Charleston loophole” that allows a firearm sale to proceed if the background check is not completed within three days. She named the loophole after Dylann Roof, who obtained a pistol that way and is accused in a shooting attack earlier this year that killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton’s gun-control stance a drastic departure from her 2008 bid
Mrs. Clinton also took a hard line against Congress’ Benghazi committee, seizing on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s remark last week crediting the probe with causing her tumbling poll numbers.
“They have admitted that it is a political partisan committee for the sole purpose of going after me, not trying to make our diplomats who serve in dangerous areas safer,” Mrs. Clinton said at an earlier forum hosted by NBC’s “Today.”
She is scheduled to testify later this month before the committee, which is investigating the deadly 2012 terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and has delved into Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive use of private email for official business when she was secretary of state.
Mrs. Clinton repeated her claim that her email setup was allowed, though an FBI investigation into her handling of classified material conceivably could lead to criminal charges.
The remark by Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, and the reemergence of a gun control debate both helped Mrs. Clinton shift her campaign from defense to offense.
The gun control issue provided Mrs. Clinton a rare opportunity to move to the left of Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent and avowed socialist whose extreme liberal agenda excited the party’s base and made him an unexpectedly fierce opponent for the nomination.
SEE ALSO: White House searches for ‘single-issue voters’ on gun rights
As a lawmaker from Vermont, a state steeped in outdoorsman traditions and strong support for Second Amendment rights, Mr. Sanders has tiptoed around gun issues, resulting in a mixed voting record in Congress.
He supported universal background checks and a ban on military-style rifles in 2013 following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But he voted against the 1993 Brady Bill, which is the cornerstone of U.S. gun laws, and he opposed legislation that would have allowed lawsuits against firearms manufacturers and dealers — the “immunity” Mrs. Clinton wants to repeal.
After the shooting at the community college in Oregon, Mr. Sanders voiced support for banning military-style weapons, universal background checks and closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” as well as improved mental health services.
All these measures were included in Mrs. Clinton’s agenda.
After Mrs. Clinton’s events, Mr. Sanders put out a statement in which he said he was “appalled by gun violence in our country and the mass shootings in our churches and colleges.”
He reiterated his support for specific gun control laws and promised to soon release a comprehensive package of measures to address gun violence.
Democratic campaign strategist Craig Varoga said the gun issue will help Mrs. Clinton more than it will hurt Mr. Sanders.
“Clinton’s position will help her with primary voters and allows her to differentiate herself with President Obama, Bernie Sanders and every single Republican, but it may not hurt Sanders a lot if he uses other issues to outflank her,” he said. “Howard Dean had a similar Vermont-friendly record in 2004, and there was a decent amount of behind-the-scenes chatter about it, but that’s not why he lost both Iowa and the nomination.”
At the community college Mrs. Clinton whipped up the crowd by railing against the National Rifle Association.
“Ideally, what I would love to see is gun owners — responsible gun owners — [and] hunters form a different organization and take back the Second Amendment from these extremists,” said Mrs. Clinton, her voice rising to a scream.
Mrs. Clinton’s newfound zeal for gun control, including the pledge to use executive action to impose tougher rules if Congress won’t, ran counter to her positions eight years ago during her first bid for the White House.
In April 2007 Mrs. Clinton looked to contrast herself with then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was caught saying some people in small towns in Pennsylvania “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them as a way to explain their frustrations.”
“I disagree with Sen. Obama’s assertion that people in our country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about trade and immigration simply out of frustration,” Mrs. Clinton told an audience in Indiana, according to news reports at the time. “You know, my dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl.
“You know, some people now continue to teach their children and their grandchildren. It’s part of culture. It’s part of a way of life. People enjoy hunting and shooting because it’s an important part of who they are. Not because they are bitter,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Mrs. Clinton cast Mr. Obama’s comments as “elitist” and “out of touch.”
“They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans. Certainly not the Americans that I know — not the Americans I grew up with, not the Americans I lived with in Arkansas or represent in New York,” she said.
Mr. Obama responded in kind, chastising Mrs. Clinton for “talking like she’s Annie Oakley” and acting as if “she’s out in the duck blind every Sunday.”