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Countdown to 2020: Takeaways on Gun Violence from the Houston Debate

19.09.13 SOC 2020 Debate Blog visuals

As the 2020 Democratic election draws closer, gun safety is on voters’ minds more than ever.

In a poll leading up to last night’s debate, 73 percent of Democratic voters said it was “very important” for candidates to discuss gun violence in Houston, up 11 percent since voters were asked before the June debates. In terms of which policy solutions voters want from candidates, another poll finds universal background checks at the top of the list.

In the absence of leadership in the Senate and White House, the private sector is stepping up. Last week, Walmart announced it would modify its firearm policies and ask customers not to openly carry guns in its stores. A number of other retail chains, including Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, and Wegmans, quickly followed suit. Just yesterday, over 100 business leaders sent a letter to Senate leadership urging action on gun safety.

At last night’s debate, candidates made it clear that gun safety will be a key priority of a Democratic White House in 2020.

Candidates Spoke Out Against NRA Corruption and Congressional Inaction

Congressman Beto O’Rourke used his opening statement in last night’s debate to address gun violence and the El Paso massacre. Later, when moderators asked candidates about their policies on gun violence, Beto made it a point to highlight how united the majority of Americans are on gun safety. “Let’s bring everyone in America into the conversation,” Beto said. “Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and non-gun owners alike.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar echoed this sentiment. “What unites us is so much bigger than what divides us,” the senator said. She drew attention to the critical gun safety legislation that passed the House and is currently stalled in the Senate, stressing that we can’t wait until one of the candidates on the stage gets into the White House to take action.

Multiple candidates, including Senator Kamala Harris, criticized the president for the hate-filled rhetoric that motivated the El Paso shooting.

“Trump didn’t pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”

Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren stressed that while mass shootings grab headlines, the daily toll of lives lost due to gun suicides, domestic violence, and community violence is just as important. Booker is right to declare: “Mass shootings are tragedies, but the majority of the homicide victims come from neighborhoods like mine.”

Booker and Warren both challenged the corruption of the corporate gun lobby and the sway it has long held over Congress. “90% of Americans want to see us…do background checks,” Warren said. “Why doesn’t it happen? Corruption, pure and simple. We have a Congress that is beholden to the gun industry.”

Gabby Joined Survivors to Call for Action

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Congresswoman Veronica Escobar attended the debate with survivors of the recent mass shooting in El Paso; parents of a woman killed at the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting; and founding members of Texas Gun Owners for Safety.

“President Trump and his Senate allies are failing to protect our kids and communities,” Gabby said in a statement leading up to the debate, “and America needs a leader who will work tirelessly to ensure that the horrific shootings we see every day across the country, including the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, are no longer our daily reality.”

We saw this leadership on the debate stage last night. Candidates took turns commending Beto O’Rourke for the courage he showed in speaking out against the Trump administration and standing up for his hometown of El Paso after the hate-fueled mass shooting that left 22 people dead.

Democrats Are United on Gun Violence

On Monday, we released the first video in our #GunSafetyPresident video series, in which eight top Democratic presidential candidates came together to call on our country to protect kids from gun violence.

The video, which has been viewed millions of times, clearly resonates with Americans desperate for action on gun safety. 89% of Americans support background checks, yet Mitch McConnell and the Senate refuse to even bring H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, up for a vote.

Our #GunSafetyPresident series demonstrates just how united the 2020 Democratic field is on gun safety. All of the candidates we spoke with agree: Gun violence is an epidemic that’s tearing apart American families and communities, and we must take urgent action to address it.


We’re teaming up with March for Our Lives to host a presidential forum on gun safety on October 2 in Las Vegas—the day after the second anniversary of the worst mass shooting in modern American history. At the forum, we’ll engage the 2020 Democratic candidate on the issue of gun safety once again.

If you agree that our country deserves a leader who isn’t afraid to take action on gun violence, let’s work together to elect a #GunSafetyPresident in 2020.

Read Our Past Debate Wrap-ups:

Countdown to 2020: Takeaways on Gun Violence from the Detroit Debates
Countdown to 2020: Takeaways on Gun Violence from the First Democratic Debates