(CNSNews.com) - In a heated moment at Sunday's Democrat debate in Flint, Michigan, Sen. Bernie Sanders differed with Hillary Clinton on the issue of liability for gun manufacturers.
"What you're really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America. I don't agree with that," Sanders told Clinton.
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gives gun manufacturers broad immunity from lawsuits intended to drive them out of business. Sanders voted for the bill. Clinton voted against it and is now calling for its repeal.
At Sunday's debate, moderator Anderson Cooper mentioned that the families of children killed in Newtown, Conn., have sued Remington, the maker of the AR-15 used in the shooting.
"Now, the lawsuit may not go anywhere because of the bill you voted for -- legislation that prevents gun makers from being sued. Tonight, what do you say to those families?" Cooper asked Sanders.
"Well, this is what I say, if I understand it -- and correct me if I'm wrong. If you go to a gun store and you legally purchase a gun, and then three days later, if you go out and start killing people, is the point of this lawsuit to hold the gun shop owner or the manufacturer of that gun liable?
"If that is the point, I have to tell you I disagree. I disagree because you hold people -- in terms of this liability thing, where you hold manufacturers' liabile is if they understand that they're selling guns into an area that -- it's getting into the hands of criminals, of course, they should be held liable.
"But if they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you're really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America. I don't agree with that."
Clinton said that's not what the bill was about:
She said groups of cities, states and other concerned people "were working on legal theories that they thought would force gun makers to do more to make guns safer and force sellers to be much more responsible."
Clinton noted that the National Rifle Association opposed the bill because the "last thing in the world we want is to have guns that you can only shoot with your fingerprint, or to have guns with such strong safety locks on them that they may not be sellable."
She also noted that "no other industry in America has absolute immunity...and they sell products all the time that cause harm...and they're held responsible."
Sanders said Clinton was not responding to the issue at hand: "As I understand it -- and maybe I'm wrong on this, but what you were essentially saying, and what people are saying, is that, if somebody who is crazy or a criminal or a horrible person goes around shooting people, the manufacturer of that gun should be held liable.
"And if that is your position, then what you are saying, essentially -- if that is the case, as I understand it -- it's not what Secretary Clinton is talking about. I agree with what she said.
"But if that is the case, then essentially, your position is there should not be any guns in America, period."
As the candidates spoke over each other, Sanders asked Clinton, "Can I finish, please?"
"I think what you do is you hold those people who have used the gun accountable," he said.
Clinton jumped in again: "Anderson, I just want to finish, because this -- I know some of the parents from Sandy Hook. I want people in this audience to think about what it must feel like to send off your first grader, little backpack, maybe, on his or her back, and then the next thing you hear is that somebody has come to that school using an automatic weapon, an AR-15, and murdered those children.
"Now, they are trying to prevent that from happening to any other family. And the best way to do that is to go right at the people --
"You talk about corporate greed?" Clinton asked Sanders, who was trying to interrupt. "The gun manufacturers sell guns to make as much money as they can make!"
Sanders, given a chance to respond, said, "Look, what happened at Sandy Hook, what happened in Michigan, what has happened far too often all over this country is a terrible, terrible tragedy, and we have got to do everything we can, as I mentioned a moment ago, to end these mass killings.
"But, as I understand what your question is -- and, you're not the only person whose heart was broken. I know, I was there in the Senate when we learned about this killing. It is almost unspeakable to talk about some lunatic walking into a -- I mean; it is hard to even talk about it.
"We all feel that way. But it, as I understand it, Anderson, and maybe I'm wrong, what you're really talking about is people saying let's end gun manufacturing in America. That's the implications of that, and I don't agree with that."