RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And we're going to take a deeper dive now into last night's presidential debate as part of our regular campaign feature, Break It Down.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Where's the beef? When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, where's the beef.
MONTAGNE: The Democratic presidential hopefuls tried to set themselves apart from one another, and there were some significant policy disagreements, including the area of gun control. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Good morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Certainly after that terrible massacre at the community college in Oregon, gun control is back on the front burner, and it's an issue that Hillary Clinton actually relishes.
HORSLEY: That's right because this is the unusual issue where Clinton can position herself to the left of her usual liberal challenger, Bernie Sanders. She criticized Sanders last night for voting against the Brady Bill, which established background checks and a waiting period for gun buyers, and for supporting a 2005 law that shields gunmakers and sellers from lawsuits over gun violence.
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HILLARY CLINTON: We have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long, and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA.
HORSLEY: Now, Sanders, for his part, insists he's not carrying water for the National Rifle Association, and he does support some gun safety measures. But as a senator from Vermont, Sanders argues, he has to represent his constituents.
BERNIE SANDERS: I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not.
MONTAGNE: Well, Scott, how is this whole argument going over?
HORSLEY: Well, gun control is a polarizing issue. Nearly 3 out of 4 Democrats come down in support of gun control whereas Republicans are much more likely to focus on gun rights. So, Clinton is on solid ground at this point in the primary, but it could be a different story in the general election. Historically, Democratic White House hopefuls, including Barack Obama, have not campaigned aggressively on gun control for fear of losing votes in rural parts of the country. The question now is whether the party is effectively writing off those areas so Clinton would have little to lose by deliberately courting pro-gun control voters.
MONTAGNE: And another issue where there differences between the Democrats is a bank regulation. This is one that former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley tried to capitalize on last night.
HORSLEY: That's right. And Martin O'Malley has not made much of an impression on primary voters so far, so last night was a big opportunity for him. An issue he stressed is a proposal to break up big banks and rebuild the Depression-era firewall between commercial banking - that's where ordinary people put their savings accounts and maybe get a home or business loan - and the potentially riskier investment banking.
MARTIN O'MALLEY: We need to separate the casino, speculative, mega-bank gambling where that we have to ensure with our money from the commercial banking, namely reinstating Glass-Steagall.
HORSLEY: Now the moderators in this CNN debate on Westwood One were too polite to point out that the debate itself was being held inside a casino in Las Vegas. But breaking up big banks is an article of faith with some progressive voters. The fear is those banks are too big, too risky, and will trigger another financial crisis. However, none of the institutions that helped trigger the last crisis - Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide - none of those combined investment and commercial banking.
MONTAGNE: And where is Hillary Clinton on breaking up the banks?
HORSLEY: Well, she does not want to go that far, and it's kind of like with Sanders on gun control. You could trace this back to her background as a senator from New York, a banking capital. She has proposed a tax on big banks like President Obama that could encourage some downsizing. However, President Obama's been pushing that tax for a number of years now, and so far, it hasn't gone anywhere.
MONTAGNE: Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: It's my pleasure, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Scott Horsley breaking down some of what came out of the Democrats first debate last night.
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