Biden takes on Sanders' gun votes in Vegas

US Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden has delivered a fiery speech over gun control.
US Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden has delivered a fiery speech over gun control.

Joe Biden, standing on a Las Vegas stage roughly 300 metres from the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, has taken on White House rival Bernie Sanders for his past vote to exempt gun manufacturers from liability for shootings.

The former vice president devoted the majority of his speech at a Democratic gala on the Las Vegas Strip to deliver a fiery charge against the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers, vowing to hold gun makers accountable if elected president.

"When I'm the president, we'll take them on, remove the immunity and allow those parents who are trying now to sue for the pain and mayhem they have caused," Biden said on stage at the Tropicana casino-resort. The resort sits adjacent to the grounds where a gunman in 2017 unleashed a torrent of gunfire on a country music festival-an incident that only Biden referred to Saturday night.

Biden, after decrying "carnage in our streets" and the anguish of families whose loved ones were killed in gun violence, said he "will not rest until they're able to sue the gun manufacturers and get a ban on assault weapons."

Biden didn't cite Sanders by name when referring to a 2005 federal law that shields gun makers from liability in most crimes, but said, "some of the people running for office voted for that exemption."

"Ladies and gentlemen that immunity was granted. Granted. And it was a horrible, horrible decision," he said.

Biden's speech came after a frenzied Saturday of campaigning across Las Vegas on the first day of early voting in Nevada's Democratic caucuses. Biden, counting on Nevada's diverse population to keep his campaign alive after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, faces his biggest challenge in the Western state from Sanders. The progressive icon is seen as the most well-positioned in the state and has reached deep into Latino neighbourhoods.

After holding forth on gun violence, Biden lasered in on health care, a sticking point for Sanders with Nevada's most politically powerful labour group, the casino workers' Culinary Union. Again without naming Sanders, Biden repeated a recent argument from the powerful Culinary Union that a single-payer "Medicare for All" system would eliminate union members' health coverage won through collective bargaining. Biden touted his idea to add a "public option" to existing health insurance markets.

And, he added, "I can actually get my plan passed."

Sanders, who was the first candidate to take the stage Saturday night, laced into billionaire candidate Mike Bloomberg, rattling off a list of heresies against the Democratic party he accused the former New York mayor of committing. Bloomberg implemented "racist policies like stop and frisk" in New York, opposed the minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy during the Obama administration, Sanders said.

"The simple truth is that Mayor Bloomberg, with all his money, will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need to have the voter turnout we must have to defeat Donald Trump," Sanders said.

It was a rare attack by name from Sanders. Bloomberg is skipping the Nevada caucuses and was not at the Clark County Democratic Party dinner where Sanders, Biden and other 2020 contenders spoke.

While the state's formal presidential caucuses are still a week away, Democrats opened the first of four days of early voting across more than 80 locations. State party officials at some sites across Nevada were overwhelmed by long lines.

Australian Associated Press