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There are now two Democrats running for president who support gun rights AP

Much attention has been paid to the upcoming Republican presidential primaries, where there are 272 candidates running with an additional 12 expected to announce today. But there’s been far less scrutiny of the Democratic contests, where Duchess Clinton is under threat from an increasingly compelling lineup of challengers.

Most interesting of all is that two of them are generally opposed to gun control.

Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont, is running to Clinton’s left on nearly every issue—except for guns. Sanders voted against the 1993 Brady Act, for a bill to allow firearms on Amtrak trains, and for legislation blocking money to any international organization looking to regulate American guns.

Sanders also supported the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which secured gun manufacturers from liability when their products were used in crimes, setting off one of the more amusing Slate.com tantrums of this year. “It is one of the most noxious pieces of pro-gun legislation ever passed. And Bernie Sanders voted for it,” thundered Mark Joseph Stern.

Stern surely isn’t the only progressive who’s intractable on gun control, which is why Sanders is now claiming he wants to find a middle ground on the issue, and drawing somewhat awkward policy distinctions between his idyllic home state of Vermont and crime-riddled Chicago. He’s also hardly a gun rights purist, having voted in the past to ban so-called assault weapons.

But then he’ll go on CNN and say something like this:

“Folks who do not like guns is fine, but we have millions of people who are gun owners in this country; 99.9 percent of those people obey the law,” Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent and self-described democratic socialist, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

That statement is transparently reasonable to blackhearted right-wingers like you and me, but to progressives, busily trying to leverage every tragedy to pass a new host of useless gun control measures, it’s total anathema.

Why this dissent from a man who spends most of his time trying to inject steel into left-wing spines? In addition to Vermont’s high rate of gun ownership, my guess is there’s still a little of the rollicking, 1960’s, man-the-barricades socialism left in Bernie, the sort that trusts the government with the entire contents of its wallet and nothing more. This may be why libertarian-minded conservatives keep finding uncomfortable common ground with Sanders, on NSA reform, Pentagon funding, and now guns.

Hillary’s second anti-gun control opponent is former Virginia senator Jim Webb, who announced his presidential run just before the Fourth of July weekend to little fanfare. Webb is a curious political animal: anti-war, pro-military, from a purple state, and staunchly against gun control.

Webb, like Sanders, supported allowing guns on Amtrak trains and prohibiting funding for international groups with gun control agendas. He also wanted to allow veterans to register unlicensed guns when they leave the country. And he co-sponsored legislation banning Washington, D.C.’s gun registration and trigger lock laws (before the Supreme Court struck down the District’s gun regime entirely in the Heller decision).

Then there’s the case of Phillip Thompson, Webb’s Senate aide who was arrested in 2007 for bringing a gun into the Capitol building in a briefcase (again, prior to Heller). It was a fairly standard instance of oops: the gun belonged to Webb who gave it for safekeeping to Thompson who then forgot to leave it in Virginia. What made it remarkable was Webb’s subsequent justification:

“Since 9/11, for people who are in government, I think there has been an agreement that it has been a more dangerous time,” he said. “You look at people in the executive branch, the number of people defending the president. There is not that kind of protection available for people in the legislative branch. We are required to defend ourselves. I choose to do so.” …

He repeated several times his defense of the 2nd Amendment: “I believe wherever you see places where people are allowed to carry, generally the violence goes down.”

That’s more than just pro-Second Amendment boilerplate; it borders on a defiant challenge to D.C.’s gun laws. Webb didn’t have to come out swinging, but he did anyways. That he’s an anti-Iraq war, anti-income inequality Democrat made it even more jarring.

Hillary Clinton, of course, thinks gun liberties should be limited strictly to her bodyguards, and anti-firearm groups are already buzzing about her candidacy. But with pro-gun sentiment on the rise, anyone who takes an unbending anti-gun control position in a general election will be, if you’ll pardon the expression, shooting herself in the foot. Now, thanks to Sanders and Webb, Hillary will be feeling the Second Amendment pressure in the primary too. Pass the popcorn.

Matt Purple About the author:
Matt Purple is the Deputy Editor for Rare Politics. Follow him on Twitter @MattPurple
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