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With Democratic presidential debate looming, Bernie Sanders calls for tougher gun laws

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

Speaking at a Tucson rally, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called for stiffer gun controls and improved mental health services to address the country’s spate of gun violence.

(Rick Scuteri / AP)

Responding to two college campus shootings in a single day, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called for tougher gun controls, including more rigorous background checks, and vastly improving the country’s mental healthcare system.

“It goes without saying that our condolences go to the families of those who were killed, and our hearts and prayers go out for a full recovery for those that were wounded,” said Sanders, who opened his hourlong remarks at a Friday night rally by mentioning the shootings at Northern Arizona University and Texas Southern University. “But we also know that we are tired of condolences, and we are tired of just prayers.”

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Specifically, the Vermont senator called for a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons, closing the so-called gun-show loophole — which allows gun sales to proceed without a completed background check — as well as improvements to the review system intended to keep guns out of the hands of those, such as convicted criminals, who are not supposed to have firearms.

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In addition, Sanders said, “We need a revolution in mental health delivery in this country” to care for “thousands of people who are suicidal, who are homicidal but … cannot get the help they need when they need it.”

Although Sanders offered scant detail, the timing of his comments was noteworthy, coming just days before the first Democratic presidential debate, when he could face challenges on the gun issue from rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin O’Malley. Both candidates have called for a tougher crackdown on guns, one of the few issues where they stand to the left of Sanders.

In 1993, he opposed imposition of a five-day waiting period on gun purchases, and in 2009, he voted to allow guns in national parks and checked baggage on Amtrak trains. He also supported 2005 legislation protecting gun manufacturers from civil liability lawsuits.

Sanders acknowledged that he comes from a state with a long affinity for guns and hunting, and virtually no gun controls.

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“But what the people of Vermont understand is that we need to have a serious conversation and stop the yelling and demeaning of all people involved in this issue,” Sanders told a supportive crowd of about 13,000, gathered at an open-air rally in a downtown park.

“The truth of the matter is — I wish I could tell you otherwise — the issue of gun violence is not going to be solved easily,” Sanders said. Then, raising his voice, he hollered, “But just because it is not going to be solved easily does not mean that we do not address it and do the best we can.”

Follow @markzbarabak for national & California politics.

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