Countdown to 2020: Takeaways on Gun Violence From the Detroit Debates

19.07.31 SOC 2020 Debate Blog visuals

Trump is silent. Democrats are poised to act.

Gun violence featured prominently in the first night of this week’s debates, with candidates focusing on the urgent need to address our nation’s gun violence epidemic, the corrupting influence of the NRA, and the solutions we know save lives.

But moderators failed to ask any questions about gun violence on the second night of the debates, despite the tragic shootings earlier this week in Gilroy, California, and Brownsville, Brooklyn.


While the candidates on the second night of the debate discussed a wide range of issues critical to the wellbeing and safety of the American people—from criminal justice reform to climate change to the gender pay gap—the absence of gun violence was a glaring omission on Wednesday night.

In a recent poll, 62% of Democratic voters said it was “very important” that gun policy was discussed in the Democratic primary. By failing to ask about gun violence, moderators let down these voters.

Because we know how important this issue is to voters, Giffords announced today that we’re teaming up with March for Our Lives to host the first-ever presidential forum on gun safety on October 2 in Las Vegas, the day after the second anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. We hope you’ll join us in encouraging candidates to attend.

Candidates Demonstrated They Understand the Urgency of Our Nation’s Gun Violence Epidemic

Gun violence came up in the first hour of the first night of the debate, and it was clear that any of the candidates on the stage would be preferable to Trump, with his continued waffling, obfuscation, and pandering on this issue.

“We know what to do, and it has not happened.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a junior in high school during the 1999 Columbine shooting. “I was part of the first generation that saw routine school shootings,” said Mayor Pete. “We have now produced the second school shooting generation in this country. We better not allow there to be a third. Something is broken if it is even possible for the same debate around the same solutions that we all know are the right thing to do. They won’t prevent every incident. They won’t save every life. But we know what to do, and it has not happened.”

We’ve seen Trump make promises and double back on them as soon as the NRA expresses its displeasure. We’ve seen him express support for policies like universal background checks—yet when such a bill passed the House in February with bipartisan support, the president threatened to veto it. And in response to the shootings over the weekend, President Trump had only empty words to offer. We must elect someone who cares about saving lives from gun violence as president in 2020.

Candidates Are Listening to Americans and Voicing Support for Lifesaving Solutions

A recurring theme of Tuesday night’s debate? We know what to do to solve gun violence, but we haven’t done it because of our broken political system and the influence the NRA wields over that system.

“We have a mass shooting’s worth of killings every day in this country,” said Mayor Pete. “What we’re doing hasn’t worked because we haven’t had a system in Washington capable of delivering what the American people have told us they want.”

Candidates on the stage on Tuesday night acknowledged that voters are demanding change on this issue, talking about the broad public support for gun safety initiatives like H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which passed the House of Representatives in a historic vote in February. “And now that bill is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s doorstep because of the money and the power of the NRA,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. “As president, I will take them on.”

The NRA’s Corrupting Influence in Politics is Fading Fast

Senator Klobuchar delivered an even more targeted critique of our political system, directly attributing federal inaction on this crisis to the gun lobby.

“This is about the NRA,” Senator Klobuchar said. “I sat across from the president of the United States after Parkland…And I watched and wrote down when, nine times, he said he wanted universal background checks. The next day, he goes and he meets with the NRA, and he folds. As your president, I will not fold.”

The NRA has long been a fringe organization that doesn’t represent the views of the majority of American voters. As more and more of the country wakes up to this reality, the organization is falling into disarray and its popularity is plummeting. Yet until we have a new administration in the White House, the NRA and the politicians it’s bought and paid for will continue to block lifesaving gun safety legislation.

Representative Beto O’Rourke also blamed our country’s failure to solve our gun violence epidemic on the NRA’s outsized influence. “How else can we explain that we lose nearly 40,000 people in this country to gun violence, a number that no other country comes even close to, that we know what all the solutions are, and yet nothing has changed? It is because, in this country, money buys influence, access, and, increasingly, outcomes.”

“We need to start looking at this as a public health issue, not a political issue,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock, whose 11-year-old nephew was shot and killed on a playground.

Candidates in the first night of the debate did a great job of talking about why it’s so critical to tackle this epidemic and how the NRA has held us back from doing so in the past. We need to make sure that this critical issue comes up in future debates—and on October 2, we’ll use our forum to make sure that candidates give this issue the time that it deserves.