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Democratic Candidates Renew Calls For Gun Control, Disagree On How Far To Go

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with MSNBC host Craig Melvin at a forum on gun issues for Democratic presidential candidates in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with MSNBC host Craig Melvin at a forum on gun issues for Democratic presidential candidates in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

Democratic presidential hopefuls called for increased firearms restrictions at a forum organized by gun control advocates in Las Vegas Wednesday.

The group largely agreed on measures like reinstating the so-called assault weapons ban and universal background checks, though some called for gun buybacks.Others cautioned against going too far and endangering more politically feasible changes.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker summed up the problems candidates have faced in distinguishing between themselves on issues of gun policy.

“Too much agreement kills the conversation,” he said.

The forum, organized by gun control advocacy groups Giffords and March For Our Lives, featured nine candidates:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  • South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Non-Profit founder Andrew Yang

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was scheduled to speak, but had an emergency heart operation Tuesday. He is reported to be recovering, but has temporarily suspended campaign events.

“We’ve got to fight them”

Many candidates focused their criticism on the National Rifle Association, which they said had stymied efforts to institute widely popular measures like universal background checks.

“There’s too much power in the hands of the gun industry and the gun lobby, and we’ve got to fight them and we’ve got to break that,” said Warren, who has emerged as a front-runner along with Biden.

Others called for more controversial measures, like a mandatory buyback of military-style semi-automatic rifles, like AR-15s. O’Rourke doubled down on his vowto get rid of such rifles.

Referring to Democratic rivals who say his plan gives fodder to gun rights advocates, he said, “I very strongly disagree with them.”

Harris, too, said she would support mandatory buybacks of military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Biden unveiled his own gun plan to coincide with the forum, which includes repealing protections for gun manufacturers, and pushed back on the wisdom of rushing to establish a national registry of guns. Biden went on to say that Democrats should focus on goals more politically achievable in the short-term.

One of his plans is to invest $900 million over eight years to study how to reduce gun violence.

“There are significantly more people being killed in brown and black neighborhoods than anywhere else,” he said in response to a question about the disproportionate toll of violence in minority neighborhoods.

Booker continued to tout a plan to institute national licensing for all gun owners.

The General Election Looms

One obstacle to any of the candidates’ plans could be the Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority and has made increasingly gun-friendly rulings. A decision in 2008 that struck down Washington, D.C.’s gun restrictions codified the Second Amendment as an individual right to bear arms in a way no other court had done before.

The court may soon hear argumentsover a since repealed New York City law that severely restricted the transport of privately owned firearms. Some experts think a ruling against the law would further restrict what states and localities can do to regulate guns.

The forum coincided with events to mark the second anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, when a gunman killed 58 people and injured hundreds while firing into crowds at The Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

That shooting spurred the administration of President Donald Trump to push the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to institute a rule banning bump stocks, attachments that turn a semi-automatic rifle into a virtual machine gun gun.

Despite that change, Democratic candidates at the forum pointed to Trump, who campaigned in part on a promise to preserve gun rights, posing anobstacle to gun reform. Trump has vacillated between support and opposition for measures like increased background checks and so-called red flag laws, whichallow law enforcement and family members to petition to haveguns temporarily taken away from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.

They also singled out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for holding up gun legislation.

All of the candidates stressed that none of their ideas will amount to much if they don’t defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

More: Here’s where all of the 2020 Democratic candidates stand on gun issues

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2019 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.