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Democrat Presidential Candidate frontrunners Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton clashed on a number of issues in Tuesday night’s debate, one of which happened to be gun control. While my own opinions on Hillary Clinton are rather well-formed at this point, I’ve tried to keep an open mind about the rest of the Dems who’ve tossed their hats into the ring. Well, to be fair, mostly Jim Webb. Such as he is. Nevertheless, an old friend invited me to watch Tuesday’s debate at a Bernie Sanders debate-watching party. Never being one to turn down an invitation for some free food, some free entertaining (in the form of both the debate and the attendees, or so I hoped) and getting outside of my political comfort zone, I decided to attend and see what I could see . . .

The event was held in a theater in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville. Cunningly, I disguised my true nature as an associate member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy by riding a bicycle to the event and splashed on some patchouli to mask the smell of gunpowder.

They never saw me coming.

Moderator Anderson Cooper started firing questions on gun control soon after the debate started. Sanders took the brunt of it and (besides Jim Webb) seemed to be the one most willing to recognize that in a nation as large as ours, it would be difficult to simply impose some sort of gun control, however much the Democrats wanted it. (The leftists of the old generation always had a streak of pragmatism about them that seems to be rather lacking nowadays, I note.)

That isn’t to say that Bernie is a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the right to keep and bear arms. He bragged about his “D-” grade from the NRA. But he was attacked Clinton anyway and those other two guys that no one really cares about from small eastern states. They apparently felt he didn’t go far enough in denouncing gun rights. Or something.

I was intrigued, however, by the reactions of the Sanders crowd in the theater. They cheered him, of course, and while they were quite willing to cheer and jeer when their sensibilities were flattered or offended, regardless of the issue. And speaking as someone who checks the “Hispanic” box when completing BATFE form 4473, it’s more than a little unnerving when a crowd of white people jeer angrily when a white candidate proclaims that “all lives matter.”

Nevertheless, the crowd sat on their hands during the gun control debate when Hillary and her two satellites spouted the same tired talking points — and, judging from the groaning, they seemed contemptuous of Her Royal Clintoness more than anything. Since I was there on a fact-finding mission, I talked to some of the others in attendance, all of whom were enthusiastic about Sanders and to a greater or lesser extent about guns. I present their stories below, for your consideration.

Audrey was a blonde woman of the baby boom generation, and was not exactly new to left-wing politics. What did you think of Bernie’s position on gun control? I asked.

“I think he’s weak on it,” she replied. “He doesn’t go far enough!” She wanted to ban guns entirely from private hands – leaving them only in the hands of the military or civilian law enforcement. “The Second Amendment says that you have to be in a militia to have a gun. There are no more militias,” she noted somewhat inaccurately, “so go ahead and form one if you want, but that’s the only reason! People shouldn’t be carrying guns around on the streets!”

“Well, every state in the Union — even New York and other ‘blue’ states — has a provision for private carry of handguns in some circumstances,” I replied. “That’s definitely a minority position you have. How did you come to it?” I asked.

It turned out that a good many years ago, Audrey had been mugged. She immediately went out and bought a gun for self-defense purposes. Some time thereafter, she had nearly shot her husband late one night, when she had mistook him for a burglar. She got rid of her gun after that incident. The fear she had between being victimized by crime, and then nearly killing a loved one with her own gun seemed to be the driving impulse behind her anti-gun position.

I pointed out that Sanders had talked a lot about the government, corporations, and the “one percent”. Why would you trust the same government that is manifestly not doing the bidding of the people it’s elected to represent? Ultimately, she replied, it came down to control versus anarchy for her. People were prone to violence and fighting, and with guns around, they would be likely to just open fire at the first provocation. It was a question between gun control and anarchy for her.

I also talked to a few younger, Millenial-types, who were outside the venue for a smoke break: A guy wearing a Bernie Sanders sweatshirt, a guy with a sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo of a local food co-op, and a young lady in a black hoodie.

The guy wearing the co-op sweatshirt came right out and said that he probably wasn’t the typical Bernie supporter. “I grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania and I believe in the right to own guns. I think you should be able to go to any store and buy a gun, just like anything else. It’s a right.”

The Bernie sweatshirt guy said that he really liked what Sanders had to say about gun control. He liked the idea of background checks. But he did think that owning guns was a right. (It wasn’t quite clear what “right” meant to him in that context.)

The young lady proclaimed herself open to the idea of people owning guns, but she felt there needed to be some sorts of restrictions to make sure that the ‘wrong people’ didn’t get their hands on them. She didn’t think gun ownership should be a right, though – she termed it a privilege along the lines of driving a car. We talked a little bit about constitutional law. She was (of course) in favor of legalized abortion. I pointed out that while the right to own a gun was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the right to an abortion rested on nothing more than court decisions, easily overturned. Was she concerned that chipping away at one would chip away at another. She seemed to accept this position, but also asked if, perhaps, this meant the Constitution was “outdated”.

Every member of the trio, of course, thought that background checks were needed to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were open to the idea of a way to restore the rights of ex-felons to own firearms after serving their time. The co-op guy analogized it to the right to vote.

The last person I spoke with was a woman in her early 40s (we’ll call her Diane,) who hailed from the South. (Note to self: is anyone in this city actually *from* Pittsburgh anymore?) Diane was a hardcore Sanders supporter, but also owned guns and, she averred, supported the second amendment. Unprompted, she analogized her support for gun rights to her support for abortion. Diane—um, well, she had quite a lot to say:

“If I have a right to bodily integrity to have an abortion,” she said, “I should also have the right to protect myself. People should have that option.”

Did she like what Sanders had to say about gun control?

“Both Sanders and Jim Webb,” she suggested, “had common-sense middle-ground positions [on guns]. We’re never going to get anywhere by screaming at each other. We should have the right to own guns, just as I should have the right to an abortion. People make bad decisions with guns sometimes, people make bad decisions about abortions, too, but it’s a right, and we can’t stop people just because we don’t like them.”

“We do have to ask, though, what we’re going to do about mentally ill people with guns.” Diane thought that Sanders could talk about the issue, and was trying to be “understanding” about the issue and said “I hope that someone on the Republican side would be brave and willing to talk about the issue, too.”

As for Hillary…well, let’s just say she wasn’t a fan. The word “corrupt” came up a few times, as well as this gem:

“I don’t know what the first woman president is going to look like, but Hillary isn’t it.”

As expected, the starting position for everyone on the Democrat side — even the most pro-gun people I talked to — leans more toward restriction than anyone on the GOP side or anything I’d prefer. Still, I was surprised by what I didn’t hear: I didn’t hear thunderous applause for typical gun control talking points. I didn’t hear people wanting to ban guns. In fact, I didn’t hear much passion on the issue at all, apart from Audrey and Diane (who was in favor of gun rights.)

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Most of the people I talked to were focused on getting a job, paying the rent, hoping that their benefits didn’t run out — the sort for whom Sanders’ socialist nostrums would appeal. No, they’re not exactly going out and joining the NRA, but they didn’t seem to be talking about the usual gun control suspects on the left either. I’ve long suspected that for the left, gun control is an issue that preening, plutocratic elites can brag about to other preening elites to show what awesome things they’re doing to earn their place in heaven. Gun control is a policy prescription whose goals are achieved in the debate leading up to the vote.

If there is one take-away I have from this night behind enemy lines, it’s that for some people, guns, gun control, just aren’t an issue. The kind of passion you see about the issue in conservative circles doesn’t really seem to be there. At least, not in the crowd I mingled with last night.


DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.

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  1. Sounds pretty standard, actually. I spend a lot of time around “anti-gun” people who are really only mildly so. None of them know the gun laws we have now, and I’ve had a lot of interesting discussions along the lines of how dumb the definition of “transfer” is in WA’s law, for example, and how the law basically isn’t enforceable.

    Most of these people are curious and polite enough to listen to me share things about guns and gun laws that they probably don’t know. More than a few of them have come to the range with me.

  2. Someone accidentally hit the publish button?

    Anyway, nice job actually getting in there and talking to people. That’s very rare. Your interviewees make some very interesting points, too.

  3. I honestly believe this is a huge reason why the Dems should elect Sanders if they want to win. You can’t run a strong gun control campaign in a general election in this country. You won’t win.

      • He won on grounds beyond gun control. As much as I don’t like ethnicity being important. He did get a lot of votes on the feeling of being “modern” and “change”

        • BINGO! Barry Soetoro lied about his plans for gun control. At least Bill’s witch is blatant about it.

        • Remember that Obama was pretty much a nobody before being elected. All we had about him was what he was willing to say.

          Sanders, OTOH, has a very long track record in Congress, and in politics in general. And also a very consistent one. You can disagree on all or most of what he says, but he is at least open and consistent about his positions. In that sense, I feel that when he identifies his position on something, it’s generally safe to assume that it is genuine and is what he will actually base his decisions on if elected.

      • He won by a slim margin because he lied, particularly about gun control. The boy has already cried wolf and us Independents don’t like being lied to.

      • Obama also convinced alot of people (Mr. Farago included) that he wasn’t coming for anyone’s guns. Then cue 7 years of absolutely insane panic gun sales. Not to mention the fact that McCain is a psychopath and Romney emitted a noxious cloud of conservative voter base repellent with his refusal to say or do anything at all against Obama’s record. 2008 and 2012 were the conservative voters calling the GOP’s bluff. 2015 and 2016 will be full out voter rebellion, maybe for both parties.

      • When you have the old media 100 percent behind you, a media that is scared to death of being called racist, a media that calls all your opposition racist, and which refuses to publish any serious background research on you, which covers up your scandals and creates scandals for your opposition…

        In 2008 and 2012, you win.

    • This country does not have general elections for anything at the federal level, including the president. The electoral college elects the president. While nearly everyone knows this, many people forget the significance of it.

      The 2016 presidential election will be decided by who wins the popular vote in a handful of states. These are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. All the other states are pretty well decided.

      As you choose your candidate, if you’re choosing to win, remember that the battle is fought in these states only. The other states are either won or lost already.

  4. To help people like Audrey.

    Anarchy: absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.

    • Yes, anarchy= no government. What she’s inferring is that anarchy = chaos, which is not entirely true. It is true that there can be chaos with the absence of government, or with it as we’ve seen a few times in recent memory, and often times agents of government contribute to or are the root cause of the chaos.

  5. It’s the elites we’re going to be fighting for all time. They know guns stand in the way to dictatorship. Your average person could give two s***s about guns. They need welfare to cover the increasingly worse bills. Besides, voters don’t make much difference. The elites will always use modern media to buy votes for whatever they want. The average voter can not be expected to understand even a percent of what actually happens in the political scheme.

    • ‘They need welfare to cover the increasingly worse bills.’

      They’re too simple minded to understand that paying people to not work does not make us richer but makes us poorer. All of us, including addle minded liberal fools.

  6. “I disguised my true nature as an associate member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy by riding a bicycle to the event and splashed on some patchouli to mask the smell of gunpowder.”

    Did you show up replete in full cycling spandex and cleats?


  7. ‘People make bad decisions with guns sometimes, people make bad decisions about abortions, too, but it’s a right…’

    So if you make a BAD decision with a gun someone gets hurt, be it killed, maimed, robbed or raped. But EVERY decision to have an abortion results in the death of a human. So what did she mean? That any decision to have an abortion was a bad decision? Then why would it be a right? Even Justice Blackmun stated in his majority decision (Roe v Wade) that if the humanity of the fetus could be established it would void their decision, yet it’s that decision and that decision alone that maintains abortion as a ‘right’ even after the humanity of the fetus has been thoroughly established. And they call me ‘anti-science’!

  8. This lack of enthusiasm doesn’t surprise. People on both sides of the isle really have always had other things to worry about. That’s why the socialists have never been able to get effective bans, and why the gun culture has never been able to overturn things like the NFA34 and GCA68. Still, I think the NRA and GOA should make deregulation of class2 their priority instead of playing straight defense. Even with every mass shooting, the gun-grabber offensive has stalled, and it’s time to counter-attack and take back as much territory as we can while we can drum up the support to do so.

  9. Most of my acquaintances who lean (D) only bray the typical HuffPo/Salon talking points about guns. Further still, some recognize the deep issues, such as the folly of NICS, that sort of thing.

    However, none actually want to see restrictions remain at the status quo or loosened. They decry government corruption and inefficiency, and want the same government who bungled NICS to begin with, to come up with fixes or a new NICS system entirely. And one guy is an unabashed fan of incrementalism. He wants a gradual buildup to total disarmament, because Europe.

    • This is what I am going to ask my leftist friends and families if it ever comes up. Do you want people like Kim Davis making decisions on who gets guns or not? I will let them know that people like her will be making those decisions. I am sure they will not like that, nor would I.

    • Yeah I can never understand that. Everyone perceives the Federal Government to be inept and inefficient, but have no problem with turning over portions of their lives and decisions to it, whether it is retirement, healthcare, security or whatever.

  10. Something something, current two party system is nolonger able to represent the will of pro-liberty American citizens ……

  11. If a gun was needed a gun to do an abortion, the left would be violently pro-gun. Personally, I’m in favor of both. In fact, I think we need more guns and more abortions, for the same reasons.

    • Yes, the fewer life-or-death decisions made by government the better.

      As for Webb, the Democratic party I once belonged to is dead. I was moved to tears when he was booed on gun control. The party of Jefferson and Jackson is now the party of big city liberals.

  12. Hmmmmm, yes well not my experience. During the I-594 battle in WA State the conversation was very heated and people were polarized, passionate and divided. Much of the anti passion seems heavily promoted by the Bloomberg based groups, these are the ones who hate and let you know. I can’t speak for the average as I never seem to talk to one. They do get confused and rarely (like never) respond accurately based in facts.

    It’s common to see a complete misunderstanding of the difference between a Right and a privilege. I find it alarming people place human abortion in the light of a Right, mistaking such for something Constitutionally protected. No opinion on this, just to say if they don’t understand the difference is it any wonder we see such division?

  13. I live an hour east of Pittsburgh in what used to be a big coal town. When I finally worked my way into the power plant, I knew I was going to hear it about being a staunch conservative working a union plant. When I first started, all the screaming matches I expected came to fruition. The young new guys, conservatives all, had to hear it every week from the old hard core dems. But surprisingly, over the last 8 years, we hear it less and less. Our current president really knocked the wind out of the old guard. Asking them now who they plan to vote for, the most common answer is “I am not voting for that bitch Hillary. I may just not vote at all.” I think quite a few of them are finally seeing the light.

  14. Ah, Butler St. I refer to Lawrenceville as “the land where the chicks look like dudes and the dudes look like chicks.”
    Here’s a pop quiz that I casually ask my liberal acquaintances: A woman walks into an abortion clinic, and another into a gun store. Which one is already contemplating ending a life?

    Serious question for Johannes – What is your preferred method of carry when riding your bicycle?

    • I’m not Johannes but I do carry and ride.

      I detest cycling ‘uniforms’.

      I have some (rather expensive) spandex, I don’t like the feel of it.

      100 percent cotton for me, jeans and a t-shirt.

      I have a smallish black leather fannypack I modified with clips to hang on my belt, it does not impede motion in the least.

  15. Being for universal background checks, and even magazine capacity limitations and assault weapons bans can all seem like reasonable positions to people who do believe in a right to keep and bear arms but otherwise don’t know anything about the subject and don’t realize what they’re supporting. Universal background checks in particular are a misleading one, because most have no idea what they actually entail.

  16. Sorry. Not supporting an openly socialist candidate like Bernie sanders. To me any candidate with a d by their name, but especially him, the same as casting a vote to make this country into the Soviet Union.

    It really pains me that so many gun owners either support him or think “well he’s not so bad”

    You’re being had by a snake oil salesman.

  17. I’m strongly for Sanders, but I think we need to see what we can do to push him in a “Vermont has almost no laws, has always had constitutional carry, and has the third lowest crime rate in the country. It’s not the laws that drive crime.”

  18. Unfortunately if now that TTAG is now publishing sanders puff pieces. I fear sanders will be the next president. America will just become another socialist hell hole.

    I for one don’t like the idea of turning over all of my hard earned money to pay for healthcare for illegal immigrants, giving jobs to foreign workers and putting Americans out of work, nationalizing businesses, gutting the military, and turning America into a complete totalitarian state.

    But apparently many Americans and many gun owners do.

    Welcome to commie hell America. You brought it upon yourselves.

    So with TTAG now becoming a “Sanders 2016” blog I think it’s time I moved on.


    • Sorry. It’s just hard to keep up hope when you see bits about sanders and Clinton winning the ’16 election and people who say they’re second amendment supporters throwing their support behind sanders.

      • Look, go back and look at all the doomsaying about Obama. We’re not a socialist muslim athiest kenyan communist utopia. And we still have our guns. I’ve been seriously disappointed by Obama’s presidency, but I was never worried about our guns. There is no good reason to think Sanders would be any different. Your ilk were wrong about Obama and you’re wrong about Sanders, so calm down. Or leave. Honestly, I don’t care.

        • It sure as Hell wasn’t for a lack of trying. Don’t kid yourself, if he could have gotten away with everyone’s guns they’d already be in use by the cartels killing border patrol agents.

        • If Sandy Hook had happened before the Republicans took back the House in 2010, we most likely would have gotten another AWB without a sunset provision. We are lucky.

      • Why do you right-wing guys always believe that being pro-gun means being right wing? Some of us don’t really care, or strongly disagree, with all of these other things you’ve listed. Guns are just one issue, there are many others.

    • I don’t think Sanders would be good on gun rights. He might be better than Obama or HRC, but that’s a low bar.

      I was just curious what his supporters–the people who actually went to a rally of sorts–thought. Their attitudes weren’t as monolithic as I thought they’d be. Perhaps that’s a low bar, too…

  19. Audrey is an idiot for misunderstanding the 2nd Amendment and secondly for buying a gun and not having an understanding about properly using it… Probably never fired it and Probably barely knew how to load it.

  20. “We do have to ask, though, what we’re going to do about mentally ill people with guns.”

    You fire them from their job as a police officer so that they can no longer murder innocent people for laughs. That’ll take care of a good chunk of the problem right there.

  21. “And speaking as someone who checks the “Hispanic” box when completing BATFE form 4473, it’s more than a little unnerving when a crowd of white people jeer angrily when a white candidate proclaims that “all lives matter.” ”
    Liberal gun nut here. Nice piece, but the quote above really gets me. Do you really not understand where this is coming from? First of all, the response was to the direct question “Is it ‘black lives matter’ or ‘all lives matter’?”. Of course all lives matter, but the slogan “black lives matter” comes from promoting the plight of a specific minority which is disproportionately impacted by police brutality and disparate policing policies and is still suffering from a history of entrenched racism. The promotion of the counter-quip “all lives matter” is code for a dismissal or diminution of the effects of entrenched bias against blacks in the system, especially in policing and criminal justice (or at the very least, that is how that crowd interprets that) . Of course all lives matter, just like of course black lives matter. But “black lives matter” is the “correct” answer to the question asked because the statistics show that, regardless of what you may personally feel, society historically has and currently seems to indicate that black lives don’t matter quite as much.

    • To be fair, blacks wouldn’t be disproportionately affected by police brutality if they didn’t commit a disproportionate amount of crimes.

      • To be fair, they are disproportionally arrested and charged even when the actual crime rates are the same (or adjusting for them). And furthermore, they also disproportionally get shitty jobs and have to live in shitty ghettos, where poverty and crime breeds more crime in a never-ending circle.

  22. It was pretty hilarious to hear Mrs. Clinton claim that the firearm manufacturing industry is unregulated. In her mind, I suppose ATF stands for Alcohol, Tobacco and Football. I am trying to figure out what other manufacturing industry is required to serialize and track it’s products at every step of the process through to the wholesaler. Is she ignorant, or was she lying? If this is an example of what makes her tower above her primary opponents or allows her to eat the lunch of the Republicans, one wonders what ignorance and lying can achieve if she were to become President.

  23. A good article, show how much the Constitution is taught in school and the difference between a right and a Privilege and how the too are mixed up in democratic demography!
    the Democratic Party is the ruination of this country
    All the smoke and mirrors started with FDR and his gun control! all because of bad people in Chicago and automatics weapons, sorta like today we have a Chicago A**hole promoting Muslim beliefs and wrecking our constitution with his illegal auctions!
    This Article shows how the Smoke and Mirrors of the Democratic Party take time away from getting too the tough questions which the Media are afraid to ask>

  24. This has been an interesting discussion. Here are a couple of additional observations.

    I have a strong feeling that the Sanders supporters aren’t necessarily going to be Hillary supporters. Similarly, Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily going to be Bush—or any establishment Republican—supporters. What we may be seeing, instead, is a historic demographic shift away from traditionally supported establishment candidates and toward decidedly more populist candidates.

    Both Trump and Sanders appear to be speaking to and attracting constituencies that have more in common with each other than similarities with mainstream politics. Despite his being a “democratic socialist” Sanders is seen as the more pragmatic democratic candidate. Trump, of course, is also running as a centrist-pragmatist espousing a market capitalist model.

    If my theory is right and we see a Sanders versus Trump contest, my prediction is that Sanders socialism argument will not stand up to Trump’s market-capitalism argument. Socialism’s inherent weakness is that, due to its internal contradictions, it must perforce rely on increasing authoritarian forms of governance to maintain control. Market-capitalism, which is predicated on free choice, is always the better, stronger argument both intellectually and historically. And Trump, being a consummate presenter of capitalist ideas will handily demolish Sanders’ socialist twaddle. Nonetheless, we haven’t had a real stand-up fight between the left and right in a very long time. If this actually happens, the resulting fireworks should be interesting. We live in interesting times.

    • Trump cannot make a coherent argument, though. He can hurl insults, and while it’s captivating to a certain audience, I don’t think that audience makes the majority in the general election. Furthermore, every insult he does against some broad group alienates that group, and by now I think he made enough of those that there’s no way in hell he can get enough support in the general election.

      Sanders is also a firebrand, but he still manages to come across as polite and not hateful; enough so that people who get to hear him actually pay attention to the points that he makes, rather than the tone. And he can actually address a hostile audience (e.g. at Liberty University) and pitch his story to them without insults, while still openly acknowledging the differences.

      Of course, Sanders has that “socialist” weight hanging off his legs. But Trump similarly has a “1% of 1%” weight, and I’m not sure which one is more damning in the current economic climate. It also doesn’t help that Sanders tries to explain his, while Trump merely flaunts his.

  25. Sounds like these people don’t understand what Bernie’s position on guns actually is. They act like all he wants is “universal background checks” and would stop after that. He has publicly said that he is in favor of banning “assault weapons” and anything “not primarily used for hunting”. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about people being able to protect themselves or only making sure “bad people” don’t get their hands on guns.

    • My takeaway from what Sanders has said on guns so far is that he doesn’t really have any strong position on the subject. If you pay attention, he pretty much only speaks on the subject when he’s being repeatedly prodded to, says a few vague words that sound largely like what public expects from a Democrat politician, and quickly moves on. But if you go to his website and look at the platform, it doesn’t have a single mention of gun control, or guns in general. My overall impression is that he believes the issue to be a distraction from his main agenda (which is mostly about the economy, and partly social justice).

      This may change as Hillary and others keep attacking him on that point, though. If he really doesn’t feel strongly about it either way, he may well decide that he needs to adopt a stronger anti-gun appearance to get past the primaries. Of course, he should also realize that it negatively affects his chances in the general election, so either way, it would be a pragmatic cynical gamble.

  26. From my perspective here near the Windy City, I have to think the location of this expedition had something to do with the mildness of the anti-gun fervor.
    No, Chicago is not 99% awash in gun ban fanatics, but I suspect a similar event here in, say, Wicker Park would produce results rather different than these.
    Yes, Chicago remains the epicenter of the anti-gun movement despite the axis-tilting Bloomberg brought about, yet anti-gun-rights raving in northeastern Illinois is still mind-stoppingly shrill.


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