Pro-O’Malley group attacking Sanders on gun control
© Greg Nash

A super-PAC supporting former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for president will launch a five-digit digital ad buy in Iowa on Thursday attacking Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (I-Vt.) over his positions on gun control.

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“Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, and Bernie Sanders voted to give gun manufacturers protections from victim lawsuits,” the ad says. “The NRA even paid for ads attacking a Sanders opponent. Bernie Sanders is no progressive when it comes to guns.”

A separate 15-second ad from the super-PAC, called Generation Forward, touts O’Malley’s support for gun control reforms and will also run in the Hawkeye State.

“Martin O’Malley banned the sale of assault rifles. Martin O’Malley enacted laws requiring licensing of handgun buyers,” the second says. “Martin O’Malley outlawed the sale of high capacity magazines. Martin O’Malley: A proven leader on gun safety.”

As a presidential candidate, O’Malley is barred from coordinating with the super-PAC, but the ads are an indication that O’Malley supporters see an opening to gain traction on Sanders, who has emerged as the top liberal challenger to Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

O’Malley has responded to the shooting deaths of nine African Americans at a black church in Charleston, S.C., last week by vowing to make gun control a cornerstone of his campaign.

"I'm pissed that we’re actually asking ourselves the horrific question of, 'what will it take?,'" O’Malley said in an email to supporters last week. “How many senseless acts of violence in our streets or tragedies in our communities will it take to get our nation to stop caving to special interests like the NRA when people are dying?"

Clinton has also called for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting.

While Sanders has a reputation as a liberal firebrand on most issues, he says his centrist views on gun control are informed by the hunting culture in his home state.

"I can understand that if some Democrats or Republicans represent an urban area where people don't hunt, don't do target practice; they're not into guns,” Sanders said in an interview that aired Thursday on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” “But, in my state, people go hunting and people do target practice.

“Talking about cultural divides in this country, you know, it is important for people in urban America to understand that families go out together and kids go out with their parents and they hunt and they enjoy the outdoors and that is a lifestyle that should not be condemned,” he continued.

Sanders supported the 2013 Manchin-Toomey bill to expand background checks that died in the Senate but voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993.

“If anyone thinks that gun control itself is going to solve the problem of violence in this country, you're terribly mistaken,” Sanders told NPR on Thursday.

“So, obviously, we need strong, sensible gun control, and I will support it,” he said. “But some people think it's going to solve all of our problems. It is not."