CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed Tuesday to make stricter gun control into a campaign that can compete with the powerful National Rifle Association’s drive to preserve gun rights, and to put the issue on the minds of voters when they cast ballots on Election Day.
“We’re going to make this a voting issue just like the other side does,” Clinton said at a town hall event in early-voting Iowa.
Clinton said that while cutting down gun violence has become a tough political battle, she’s determined to push measures that would expand background checks, make it harder for guns to land in the wrong hands and overturn a law shielding gun manufacturers in lawsuits.
Clinton’s appeal comes amid an uptick in public support for tighter gun laws, and during the first presidential campaign since a series of gun massacres and the December 2012 shooting in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that killed 20 children and six educators. The issue remains popular among Democrats, who unsuccessfully pushed for gun legislation in Congress following the Newtown shootings.
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An AP-GfK online poll this month found that 58 percent of Americans now think gun laws should be made stricter, while 27 percent think they should be left as they are and 12 percent think they should be made less strict. That’s a slight shift since an AP-GfK poll conducted in December 2013, when 52 percent of Americans said gun laws should be made stricter.
But Democrats have avoided taking on the NRA in recent presidential elections. When Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, left the White House after the 2000 election, he suggested that one of the reasons Vice President Al Gore lost was because of opposition in rural states to Gore’s approach on gun control.
Though it sounded Tuesday like she was taking political aim at Republicans, Clinton’s strategy also is designed to shore up support in her own party by driving a wedge between liberal Democrats and her chief primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The former secretary of state and Sanders have tangled over gun violence since last month’s first Democratic debate. Representing rural Vermont, Sanders voted for a 2005 measure to give gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits. Clinton opposed that bill in the Senate and said in the debate that Sanders wasn’t tough enough on guns.
At a Tuesday evening town hall at Grinnell College, Clinton didn’t mention Sanders but said the 2005 law was “absolutely outrageous. I voted against that. Why on earth would you gift that to anybody?”
Sanders said in an interview Tuesday with MSNBC that he supported expanding instant background checks and pointed to votes in the past to ban assault weapons. But he suggested he’d be more capable of bringing various factions together to make improvements to the nation’s gun laws.
“The difference perhaps that I have with the secretary on that is that I believe we need a consensus,” Sanders said.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has struggled to gain traction in a field dominated by Clinton and Sanders, has also pushed for more stringent gun control.
O’Malley, campaigning in New Hampshire, rolled out a series of executive actions on Tuesday that he would take if elected president, including instructing his administration to stop defending a law that gives legal immunity to gun dealers and manufacturers when their weapons are used to commit crimes.
Clinton is airing new ads in Iowa and New Hampshire trumpeting her stance on guns and met Monday in Chicago with a group of mothers whose children were victims of gun violence, including the mothers of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, who were both killed by police, and Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old whose 2012 shooting prompted protests around the country.
Republicans say the issue represents another shift by Clinton, who pointed to hunting as a way of life and a cultural touchstone during her 2008 primary race against Obama.
“Hillary Clinton’s hypocrisy on guns reinforces that she will do or say anything to get elected and that she is well outside the mainstream on the Second Amendment,” said Michael Short, a Republican National Committee spokesman.
At the outdoor town hall, Clinton pointed to another difference with her rivals: the federal minimum wage. Clinton said she favored a $12-an-hour wage and would encourage communities to go higher, noting that some cities have approved a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Both Sanders and O’Malley back a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, which has been championed by fast-food workers and unions around the nation.
Clinton’s session at Grinnell included a question about global poverty by a man wearing a One campaign T-shirt. “I’ve had many conversations with Bono about this,” Clinton responded, referring to the U2 frontman and humanitarian. She said the global community had made progress fighting poverty but hasn’t been able to go far enough.
On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC