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“It Is Time for Us to Think Big, Not Small”: Bernie Sanders Holds a Town Hall in North Las Vegas to Talk Gun Violence, Education, Health Care, and More

A day after the AFSCME Public Service Forum, and just hours after back-to-back mass shooting attacks in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) held a town hall at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas. Sanders addressed both of the shootings today, and he gave a clearer indication of what he will do to treat the nation’s gun violence epidemic. In addition Sanders touched upon the other crises plaguing America, from the ongoing gaps in health care coverage to the crushing burden of student debt.

When it comes to the debate within the Democratic Party on how to defeat President Donald Trump next year, Sanders was quite clear on what how he intends to do it: “It is time for us to think big, not small.”

“It is hard to put into words the reality of today, because it is not just today […] Gun owners and non-gun owners alike want to see the passage of common-sense gun safety legislation.” 
– Bernie Sanders, while speaking with reporters at the AFSCME Public Service Forum yesterday
Photo by Andrew Davey

While at the AFSCME Forum yesterday, Bernie Sanders addressed the breaking news of the El Paso Shooting that we now know left 20 people dead and 26 people injured. “It is hard to put into words the reality of today, because it is not just today,” Sanders said. He later added, “All I can say is that the American people are overwhelmingly united. Gun owners and non-gun owners alike want to see the passage of common-sense gun safety legislation.”

Then last night, another shooter opened fire in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine and injuring 26 before a private citizen wrestled the gun away from him and police denied him entrance to a crowded bar where he planned to kill many more people. And both of these came less than a week after the mass shooting attack in Gilroy, California, where the suspected shooter bought a military-grade assault weapon from a gun store in Fallon.

While Sanders has often campaigned on a consistently progressive track record, he hadn’t always been consistently progressive on gun safety. But this weekend, Sanders has been giving a clearer indication of where he stands now. On CNN’s State of the Union earlier today, he called upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to cancel August recess and allow votes on legislation to expand background checks and ban military-grade assault weapons. In addition, Sanders endorsed the idea of “very strict licensing requirements” for higher-grade guns, moving him somewhat closer to the universal permit-to-purchase licensing program that Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) is running on, as well as the combination of legislation and executive action to restrict access to assault weapons that Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) is running on.

“We can not continue to allow the NRA to determine gun policy in the United States of America. The views of the NRA are way out of touch with where the American people are.” 
– Bernie Sanders
Photo by Andrew Davey

Once Sanders entered the gym at Cheyenne High, he wasted no time in addressing the tragic events of this weekend: “Today, we mourn again.” He then spoke of the consensus among Americans beyond Capitol Hill: “The good news is that the overwhelming majority of the American people understand that we have to move forward on what we call common-sense gun safety legislation.” Once again, Sanders endorsed universal background checks and he stated, “Finally, in my view, we have to ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons that are designed for one purpose.”

Sanders then addressed the tragedy closer to home that still heavy on many Nevadans’ hearts nearly two years later: “I don’t have to tell the people of Las Vegas, who suffered the tragic shooting in 1 October. They are designed to kill human beings in a rapid way. Here in America, we have more assault weapons on the civilian streets than those owned by the U.S. military.”

Sanders ultimately promised, “We can not continue to allow the NRA to determine gun policy in the United States of America. The views of the NRA are way out of touch with where the American people are.” And he challenged the audience of 330 at Cheyenne High, “Let us finally have the courage to take on the NRA.”

“When we talk about education, we are talking about our values as human beings.” 
– Bernie Sanders

At her town hall in Henderson last night, Kamala Harris addressed the state of public education and called upon reforms like decoupling school funding from property taxes and raising teacher pay to bring more equity to public schools. At his town hall in North Las Vegas, Bernie Sanders echoed Harris’ concerns, offered the same ideas as part of his education plan, and added, “Our proposal calls for a tripling of federal funding for Title I schools,” or schools that primarily serve working poor communities.

As Sanders sees it, “It is no great secret that while we have some great public schools, we have other public schools that are struggling. We have schools serving minority communities that do not have the property tax rates that wealthier communities have.” He then added, “These schools need more resources, not fewer resources.”

Sanders then asked the crowd to look at the bigger picture and notice what’s wrong with it. “When we talk about education, we are talking about our values as human beings,” Sanders exclaimed. He continued, “There is something inherently wrong with our nation when we have professional baseball and basketball players who are making millions, and I love baseball and basketball, but we have teachers who are working two or three jobs and who have to pay out of their own pockets for school supplies.”

“People do not like their health insurance companies. They like their doctors and nurses, but they don’t tell me, ‘Bernie, I love that UnitedHealthcare!’” 
– Bernie Sanders

From there Sanders hit upon many of the issues that defined his 2016 presidential campaign, such as free public college, universal student loan debt forgiveness, a $15 national hourly minimum wage, and guaranteed jobs programs and infrastructure investment that may have inspired what we now call the Green New Deal. Sanders also addressed the critics, such as his centrist rivals on the CNN Debate stage last week, who claim his ideas are “crazy”, “impossible”, and/or “malarkey”. For Sanders, “If we can bail out the crooks on Wall Street, if Trump and his friends can give billions in tax breaks to his wealthiest friends and most profitable corporations, you know what, we can cancel all student debt.”

Soon enough, Sanders talked about another of his signature issues, one that caused a lot of back-and-forth at the debate stage in Detroit: “We are now spending twice as much as any other developed nation on health care. […] We are spending $11,000 per person. We have the right to have the best health care system in the world.” 

At Cheyenne High, Sanders answered his critics’ contention that “Medicare for All” single-payer health care would result in higher taxes and fewer choices. Not only did Sanders point out how much more Americans are paying for mostly private health insurance than Canadians pay for their Medicare, but he also addressed critics’ claim that “Medicare for All” would result in people losing access to the care they need. As Sanders put it, “People do not like their health insurance companies. They like their doctors and nurses, but they don’t tell me, ‘Bernie, I love that UnitedHealthcare!’”

When someone from the audience later asked whether things like kidney transplants, hearing aids, and dental care will be covered under his “Medicare for All” program, Sanders reassured her, “Yes. Any health care you need will be covered.”

Our job is to bring our people together, not to divide them apart.” 
– Bernie Sanders
Photo by Andrew Davey

Getting back to another painful truth exposed by the El Paso Shooting, Sanders didn’t hold back in holding the White House accountable for playing fast and loose with extremist bigotry: “Lastly, I say to President Trump: Please stop the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Stop the hatred in this country that is creating the violence that we’re seeing.” He soon added, “Our job is to bring our people together, not to divide them apart.”

Sanders also called Trump a “pathological liar”, and he expressed hope that after four years of living under Trump’s white nationalist agenda, most Americans will be more than ready to opt for a very different kind of change. “I think the American people are catching onto the fact that he is a fraud, he is a phony, and he only cares about his fellow millionaires and billionaires,” he declared.

Sanders then ended the program on this optimistic note: “If we are prepared to stand together against Trump’s efforts to divide us based on the color of our skin or our religion or our sexual orientation or our gender, we are prepared to bring our people together.” And he declared, “When we do that, there is nothing that can stop us.”

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