Clinton seeks to seize edge over Sanders on gun control
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Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonCheney: Russian election interference could be ‘act of war’ Conservatism's worst enemy? The Freedom Caucus. The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE supporters think they’ve finally found a way to put Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report Sanders will 'absolutely' work with Trump to lower prescription drug costs Sanders says he will introduce 'Medicare for all' bill MORE on defense: gun control.

Throughout her presidential campaign, Clinton has sought to highlight her support for gun control, seizing on an opportunity to appeal to progressives on perhaps the one issue where she is to the left of her rival Sanders.

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In doing so, Clinton allies have pushed a narrative that as a member of the House of Representatives, Sanders voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act in 1993, a bill that laid the foundation for the current national background check system.

Clinton allies and top Democratic strategists say it’s an issue that could hurt the Vermont Independent senator.

“He’s going to have to evolve on this issue, because he’s not where Americans, including Democrats, are,” said one Democratic strategist. 

Sanders has run a strong campaign against Clinton so far and is polling ahead of the former secretary of State in New Hampshire. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Sanders with a 14-point lead in the Granite State over Clinton, while the RealClearPolitics average of polls finds he is 11 points ahead. 

The self-proclaimed Democratic socialist has championed left-wing causes and sought to push Clinton to the left on both economic and foreign policy issues.

Sanders backs the Iran nuclear deal and wants to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. In general, he’s said the U.S. should focus less on international conflict and more on the nation’s middle class.

He’s an opponent of Obama’s trade deals, would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and institute higher taxes on estates and Wall Street. He’d also make college and university tuition free, require that employers provide 12 weeks of paid family leave and break up the big banks.

But on gun control, Sanders sounds a bit more like a centrist — or even a Republican.

While he backed a 2013 Senate bill imposing tougher background checks for gun sales, he has repeatedly downplayed the need for gun control.

He voted against the Brady Bill as a House member, and more recently voted in favor of 2005 legislation that shielded gun manufacturers from the threat of lawsuits.

This record creates opportunities for Clinton, who is looking to tamp down enthusiasm on the left for Sanders.

Days after nine people were killed by a lone gunman at an Oregon community college, Clinton touted new proposals for gun reform on the stump in Iowa — where her lead over Sanders has narrowed significantly since the beginning of summer.

She said her proposal would strengthen the federal background check system and that she could use executive orders to enforce it.

“This is not just stuff that happens,” Clinton said, alluding to Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s remarks following the Oregon shootings. “We let it happen.”

Sanders last week called for a “comprehensive approach” to dealing with gun violence. He said the nation must focus more on preventing “guns from being used by people who should not have them,” including through reforms to the mental health system and toning down “the incredibly high level of gratuitous violence which permeates our media.”

“The shouting at each other must end. The hard work of developing good policy must begin,” Sanders said hours after the Oregon shooting.

Clinton allies believe the mixed Sanders record will leave liberals guessing about his real position.

“What does he say to progressives now?” one Clinton ally said. “This obviously looks good on her and leaves progressives wondering what he really stands for.”

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said gun control is an issue where Sanders is “out of position.” 

“It’s a valuable opportunity to satisfy some of the people romantically engaged with Bernie,” Jillson said. “And anything that makes him uncomfortable is welcome to the Clinton campaign, which is so uncomfortable so much of the time.”

Some leaders of liberal groups are also praising Clinton on the issue.

Charles Chamberlain, executive director at the liberal Democracy For America (DFA), said that it was “fantastic to see Secretary Clinton a little bit out front of Senator Sanders on gun policy.”

If Clinton can emerge from the primary as the Democratic nominee, some observers think gun control could fade as an issue in the general election as she seeks to win over independents in addition to the Democratic base.

“She’ll have to moderate” her position in a general election, Jillson said. “I think it’ll be a less visible part of her agenda and her campaign talking points.”

Clinton allies, however, say gun control is an issue the Democratic front-runner feels strongly about and an issue that she’ll continue to discuss past the primary and into a general election. 

Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, a Clinton supporter who has lobbied for gun control in the past, thinks Sanders could be hurt on the issue.

“So far, I haven’t seen him give a good answer to it,” he says.

Elmendorf argues that there’s no danger to Clinton talking about the issue in the general election.

“I think the whole issue of gun safety has changed for obvious reasons, and intensity is increasing on the program safety side, and it’s an issue with women in states that matter,” he said.

Updated at 8:33 p.m.