Two student journalists from the Eagle Eye, Stoneman Douglas high schools newspaper, interviewed the Vermont senator about the search for a breakthrough in the gun debate and his own voting record
We are a part of the Eagle Eye newspaper at Stoneman Douglas. We just wanted to ask a couple of questions. So first, has the Parkland shooting affected your opinion on how gun laws should be handled federally?
Bernie Sanders I wouldnt say it affected my opinion other than it made the entire country start focusing on an issue, which previously did not get the attention that it deserved. And I think, you might ask, Why Parkland? Why not Las Vegas, the terrible tragedy we had in Las Vegas or other shootings? I dont know why. But somehow or another, maybe because of the response of the students, or maybe because the American people finally had enough, the consensus was [it was] the straw that broke the camels back, and people looked around and said, What is going on in America? We have got to do something. Saying that in a way that we have not seen for a long, long time. I think people are saying, I am saying, many members of Congress are saying, We have got to do something. Weve got to do it now. Kids have got to be safe in school and we cannot allow people just to be shot down with military weapons.
Your home state of Vermont is one of the most gun-friendly states in the nation, yet has one of the lowest gun violence crime rates. Why do you think that is?
In states like Vermont, which are very, very rural states, people hunt, people do target practice, people go to gun shows. Guns are a way of life and people take that very seriously, and they treat guns with a lot of respect. That is something very different in other parts of the country, where guns are used by people who are criminals, who are into drug dealing and so forth and so on. But I would also say, maybe Im wrong on this but I think Im right, that in Vermont the vast majority of people, including gun owners, understand that we need what I call commonsense gun legislation.
People say, Oh, the American people are divided on the issue of guns. Well, you know what, by and large the American people are not divided. It is this Republican Congress that is controlled by the NRA [National Rifle Association] that is the problem. If you go out, and you look at the polling, and youll say to the American people, Do you think we should improve and expand background checks? You know what the American people say overwhelmingly, what gun owners say overwhelmingly? Of course.
The majority of the American people say, This is pretty crazy. Lets deal with it. Increasingly, something that Ive felt strongly about for 30 years, people also understand that military-style assault weapons should not be sold in this country and distributed. More and more people believe that. But not quite as many as believe the other thing. So I think what Parkland was about is the straw that broke the camels back. That people want action right now. That people are prepared to stand up to the NRA. I want to say that you, you guys, in the high school deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping bring about that change of attitude.
In the past couple of years weve seen a lot of grassroots movements, like the #MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter and now the Never Again movement. What do you feel is the importance of these kinds of grassroots movements on changing policy?
Extraordinarily important. Thats how change takes place. Ive said it a million times in every speech that I give. Change never takes place from the top. It always comes from the bottom on up. So right now, when you have large numbers of young people all across this country who are saying to the leaders of this country, When we go to school we want to feel safe, that will have an impact, absolutely, to my mind.
So what do you think of the importance of students and young people getting involved in politics?
How many hours do you have here? I think it is enormous. I think you are the future of this country. And I think, one of the things There are two truths here and that is young people in general, not just high school students but younger people in general, dont know their political strength. They dont know their political strength. They can turn this country around.
I was just on the floor today dealing with another issue, dealing with Yemen. And the point that I talked about [was] the Vietnam war. That war was finally stopped. You know how it was stopped? Not by people here, but by people on the streets, mostly young people. It was stopped because kids 18 and 19 were saying, I dont want to go to Vietnam and get killed or kill people. This war does not make sense. So I think that the future of this country is in the hands of young people. You have to understand your power, youve got to be involved politically. And I very much hope that thats what your generation does.
So in 2006 you were awarded a C- rating from the NRA. What prompted that raise in rating?
I have no idea. I have a D- lifetime average. The NRA is very arbitrary. In fact, if Im not mistaken, I wont swear to you on this, you and you could cast exactly the same votes and you get a different rating. It is extremely arbitrary.