Countdown to 2020: Elizabeth Warren 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.

Elizabeth Warren’s Record on Gun Safety

As a senator from a state with some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, Elizabeth Warren understands that gun laws can save lives—and that strong gun safety laws are entirely compatible with Second Amendment rights. During her 2012 US Senate campaign, Senator Warren was vocal about her desire to renew the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. Warren’s voting record as a senator and her calls for funding research into gun violence suggest that as president, Warren would be a leader on this issue, putting the safety and wellbeing of the American people above the interests of gun manufacturers.

“Gun violence is a national health emergency and we need to treat it like that…We need to treat it like a serious research problem, which we have not done.” June 26, 2019

Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Address Gun Violence

Immediately following the two mass shootings claimed 31 lives in El Paso and Dayton, Warren joined Gabby Giffords and a number of other 2020 Democratic candidates in calling for the Senate to pass HR 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. Days later, Warren released her comprehensive and ambitious plan to tackle our nation’s gun violence epidemic, demonstrating that she isn’t afraid to think big—and she isn’t afraid to be specific.

As president, Senator Warren will aim to reduce America’s nearly 40,000 annual gun deaths by 80%. She isn’t afraid to take executive action to hold gun manufacturers accountable, or to eliminate the filibuster to help chip away at the NRA’s influence over Congress. Warren also proposes revisiting gun violence prevention legislation every year, iterating and improving federal laws to ensure they are maximally effective in saving lives from gun violence.
Here are a few highlights of Senator Warren’s plan:

Establishing a Federal Licensing System

In this country, you need a license to drive a car, but you don’t need one to buy a gun. As Senator Warren’s plan points out, state licensing systems have been proven to reduce gun trafficking and violence. Senator Warren also pledges to take executive action to close the loopholes in our background check system, requiring background checks for the “vast majority of private sales,” including firearms purchased at gun shows and online.

Warren’s plan also addresses the importance of closing the Charleston loophole, which allows gun sales to proceed if background checks aren’t completed within three days. This loophole allowed the Charleston shooter to purchase weapons despite prior substance abuse possession that should have precluded him from doing so. In February, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan background checks bill and another bill closing the Charleston loophole, both of which are currently stalled in the Senate.

Regulating Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines

Semiautomatic assault weapons like the AR-15 are highly lethal weapons of war that have no place on our nation’s streets. Elizabeth Warren supports extending the 1994 federal assault weapons ban by prohibiting the future production, sale, and importation of military assault weapons, and regulating existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act (NFA). Machine guns, which are rarely used in crime, are currently regulated under the NFA, but few other types of firearms fall within the NFA’s purview—of the 322,078 firearms traced in the United States during 2017, less than 1% were regulated under the NFA.

Elizabeth Warren’s plan also calls for a ban on high-capacity magazines, which are commonly defined as magazines that hold 10 or more rounds at a time (though some states define “high-capacity magazines” as those that hold more than 15). High-capacity magazines have been used in many of the past decade’s deadliest mass shootings. A high-capacity magazine that held 100 rounds of ammunition allowed the Dayton shooter to kill nine people and leave 26 wounded in under 30 seconds.

Funding Research into Gun Violence

Gun violence in America has reached a 40-year high. Yet for decades, the federal government has failed to adequately fund research into this public health crisis. The federal government spends roughly $35 million per year researching car crashes, but less than $2 million per year researching gun deaths. Car crash deaths have decreased dramatically since the 1970s, while the number of gun deaths has remained relatively stable.

In April, the House included $50 million in gun violence research funding in the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Bill, a critical first step in getting this epidemic the funding it deserves. Senator Warren’s plan calls for an annual investment of $100 million for DOJ and HHS to research the causes of gun violence and effective prevention strategies, an investment that Senator Warren says will be used to tweak existing gun safety reforms and legislation.

Our Take

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything, and fighting gun violence is no exception. Her approach to saving lives from this crisis isn’t that different from how our nation has tackled other deadly challenges, like car accidents: Start with the low-hanging-fruit (like seatbelts or background checks), invest in research to study what works, and build on progress with further action.

We know where to start. But we also know we need a leader with the gumption to keep up the pressure on Congress to do its job and take action that will save lives. Candidate after candidate vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020 have demonstrated that they have what it takes to be this kind of leader on gun safety.