Where the 2020 Democratic Candidates Stand on Gun Control

Where the 2020 Democratic Candidates Stand on Gun Control (College student Jennifer Estrada takes part in a rally for gun control and anti-racism in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Wang Ying/Xinhua Getty Images)

Recent deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio have Americans on edge, provoking fear, anger and grief in communities across the country. This year alone, at least 59 people in the U.S. have been killed in mass shootings, according to a database on mass shootings maintained by Mother Jones. 

In the wake of this constant stream of tragedies, young voters are asking: which presidential candidate will take action on gun violence if they win in 2020? And will their ideas reduce gun deaths and mass killings? 

Focusing on five hopefuls vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, YR Media examined policy proposals and what the candidates have said about gun control before and after the attacks in El Paso and Dayton. 

The candidate: Joe Biden

The policy: Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the polls in the primary race, does not currently have a gun policy platform on his website. But on Sunday, he wrote in The New York Times that he would reinstate bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, citing his efforts to pass the original legislation in 1994. 

To make the ban more effective, Biden said, his administration would push for a universal backgrounds check bill and implement a voluntary buyback program to get assault weapons off the streets. The candidate has touted his reputation as a politician who “stands up to the NRA” and the gun lobby.

The candidate: Cory Booker

The policy: Even before the most recent massacres in Texas and Ohio, Sen. Cory Booker made gun violence a central issue in his campaign. Booker, who lives in a community plagued by violence in Newark, New Jersey, released his 14-point plan in May, pledging to “end the gun violence epidemic” by creating a federal gun licensing program, banning assault weapons and limiting buyers to one handgun per month, among other proposals. 

The licensing program would require prospective gun owners to pass a comprehensive FBI background check and provide proof of completion of a gun safety course before they could receive a license, which would be valid for up to five years with the option to renew. Ten states have already implemented “permit to purchase” systems that require gun buyers to obtain a license or permit before buying at least some firearms, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The candidate: Kamala Harris

The policy: If elected president, Sen. Kamala Harris says she would give Congress 100 days to send “comprehensive gun safety legislation” to her desk, including universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and the repeal of a bill that gives gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits. Most notably, the former California attorney general said she’d revoke the licenses of gun manufacturers and dealers who break the law and collect fines for up to $500,000 per violation.

This week, Harris released more policy proposals regarding her goals of “disarming the threat” of domestic terrorism and white supremacists. The plan would give federal courts the power to issue “domestic terrorism prevention orders,” which would give law enforcement the ability to temporarily seize the gun of a person who may imminently perpetrate a hate crime or terrorist act. 

The candidate: Beto O’Rourke

The policy: For Beto O’Rourke, the tragedy in El Paso was deeply personal. The former Texas Senate candidate previously represented the city in the House of Representatives and is a fierce defender of its residents against criticism from President Donald Trump. 

If elected, O’Rourke says he would not hesitate to take executive action to reverse Trump administration policies that permit “fugitives to purchase guns” and allow access to 3D printing of plastic guns. Beyond echoing Democratic calls for closing loopholes that give domestic abusers the ability to buy firearms, O’Rourke said he would increase funding for communities affected by gun violence and advocate for the passage of “red flag laws,” which allow law enforcement to prevent people who pose an imminent danger to themselves or others from keeping their firearms. In an interview with Pod Save America after the El Paso shooting, O’Rourke said he was open to supporting a mandatory gun buyback program and a gun licensing system. 

The candidate: Elizabeth Warren

The policy: Just a week after the shootings, Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced her plan to reduce gun deaths by 80 percent through a combination of legislation and executive action. Those executive actions would include stricter background check requirements, raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 and investigating the National Rifle Association. 

Alongside calls for a gun licensing system, an assault weapons ban and a $100 million annual investment in gun research, Warren echoed her calls for “sweeping anti-corruption legislation” to remove NRA influence from politics and to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, which would lower the threshold to pass bills from 60 votes to a simple majority, or 51 votes. 

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