Countdown to 2020: Kirsten Gillibrand on Gun Safety


In 2018, voters elected a wave of candidates who prioritized gun safety like never before. No longer a third rail of politics, gun violence prevention is now a top issue heading into the 2020 presidential election. In this regular series, we delve into the gun safety platforms of Democratic presidential candidates who have released initial policy plans to address this issue. While not an endorsement of any candidate or their platform, each post looks at a candidate’s record, explains their proposals, and shares our analysis.

Kirsten Gillibrand’s Record on Gun Safety

Although Kirsten Gillibrand once received an ‘A’ from the NRA while serving in the House, she has been a passionate leader for reducing gun violence over the past decade in the Senate and now proudly touts her ‘F’ rating from the organization.

Advocating for gun safety has become personal for Gillibrand, who has been a friend of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords since they were elected to Congress in the same freshman class. She has also taken the time to meet with family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Gillibrand credits those meetings with driving her focus on the interstate gun trafficking that leads to many of the shootings that occur in New York, despite the state’s strong gun laws.

“It takes humility to listen. It takes courage to change your mind.” May 21, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand’s Plan to Address Gun Violence

Last week, Senator Gillibrand became the latest Democrat running for president to release a gun safety platform. She frames the issue as an example of Donald Trump going back on his promises to the American people. While Trump initially voiced his support for universal background checks and raising the age to buy a gun after the tragedy at Parkland, he’s since backtracked on these issues.

We break down the key elements of Kirsten Gillibrand’s plan below.

Fighting Gun Trafficking

The ease with which firearms flow from states with weak gun laws to states with strong gun laws is why we need federal legislation to solve America’s gun violence crisis. In Gillibrand’s home state of New York, for example, 74% of guns used in crime between 2010 and 2015 originated out of state. Nationwide, that number was only 29%.

There is no federal anti-trafficking law, which makes it more difficult for prosecutors to crack down on individuals who flood communities with illegal guns. Gillibrand has introduced legislation to pass such a law in the Senate. And in her gun safety platform she pledges to crack down on trafficking through directing the Department of Justice to prosecute gun traffickers through conspiracy charges.

“Our commitment to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill should not be a Democratic idea or a Republican idea…it’s simply a common sense reform that the American people expect us to implement to keep them safe.” March 11, 2013

Universal Background Checks

Gillibrand knows that requiring a background check on every gun sale is critical to reducing gun violence in our country, not to mention a policy that more than 90% of Americans support. She also knows that for too long, the gun lobby has blocked any meaningful progress on this issue. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed bipartisan universal background check legislation in February, but Mitch McConnell refuses to let the bill come to the floor in the Senate. Gillibrand’s plan calls for prioritizing that legislation should she be elected president.

Repealing the Tiahrt Amendments

The Tiahrt Amendments are a group of riders that have been quietly added to Department of Justice appropriations bills since 2003 at the behest of the gun lobby. The riders use several approaches to actively undermine the efforts of federal law enforcement, including by prohibiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) from requiring gun dealers to submit inventories. Corrupt gun dealers are the number one source of guns on the illegal market, yet the Tiahrt Amendments prevent ATF from making sure that dealers report all lost and stolen firearms.

Gillibrand’s plan prioritizes giving law enforcement the tools it needs to fight gun violence by repealing the Tiahrt Amendments.

Our Take

Kirsten Gillibrand embodies America’s changing politics on guns. She, like the nation, has come face to face with our gun violence crisis time and time again. And she, like the nation, has decided that enough is enough; that the Second Amendment and gun safety measures go hand in hand; that it’s past time to fight for measures that will save lives.

Senator Gillibrand’s attention to gun safety on the campaign trail, and her specific plan to address gun violence at all levels, prove that she’s ready to be a leader on this issue as president if elected. Gillibrand and the other Democratic candidates demonstrate how far we’ve come on this issue—and how much we can accomplish if we win back the White House.