Democratic presidential candidates discuss gun control, college affordability

Forrest Milburn

Cheers and boos erupted from the crowd watching the first of six Democratic presidential debates Tuesday evening while candidates sparred over gun control and higher education affordability, among other issues.

Supporters of the five Democratic presidential candidates, including UT students and members of University Democrats, gathered at Scholz Garten for a watch party hosted by the Travis County Democratic Party.

Several candidates criticized Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for his votes against gun control bills, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying he is not tough enough on guns. Sanders said his votes reflected the rural state voters he represents.

“I think that we need to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence,” Clinton said. “This has gone on too long, and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA.”

The debate comes just two weeks after the fatal shootings of nine students at an Oregon community college, which has since brought gun control — especially on college campuses — back into the national spotlight.

University Democrats President Kiefer Odell said he thought gun control was an issue Clinton could use to garner support from the left, and that it could make the difference in some UT students’ support.

“I certainly have my personal leanings, but I think the club is pretty evenly split,” Odell said. “Most are still pretty undecided.”

Jessica Giles, a communication sciences and disorders studies freshman, said she thought Sanders received a lot of heat from the other candidates because of a misrepresentation of his gun control stance.

“I think once he explained himself, a lot of his statements made a lot of sense, and the other candidates were misinterpreting it,” Giles said. “I don’t think he’s been answering questions as strongly as I expected him to, but his answers on climate were strong.”

On the cost of college, Sanders said he would tax Wall Street to lower interest rates around the country and make colleges tuition-free, while Clinton said she believes the “burdensome” costs should be more affordable and that students should work part-time to help alleviate costs.

Recent polling shows a tight race between Clinton and Sanders, with the other three candidates sitting in the single digits. According to a FOX News poll, Clinton receives the support of 45 percent to Sanders’ 25 percent of all Democrats nationally, with Vice President Joe Biden at 15 if he were to run.

Doug Snyder, business and government freshman and a member of University Democrats who also works for the Travis County Democratic Party, said prior to the debate that he hoped the candidates really answer the questions instead of going around them.

“I want to see the candidates not dance around but actually address the issues that are important to the everyday American people,” Snyder said. “I want to hear them talk about how they can help the individuals who need it in the United States, and that’s what most of the candidates have been doing up until now, so I hope to see some real rhetoric tonight.”

CBS News will host the next debate on Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa, with CNBC hosting the next Republican debate on Oct. 28 in Boulder, Colorado.