Countdown to 2020: Kamala Harris 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.

Kamala Harris’s Record on Gun Safety

Kamala Harris has been working to keep communities safe from gun violence since beginning her career as a prosecutor in the early 1990s. As the attorney general of California, she prioritized retrieving firearms that had fallen into the wrong hands and fighting in court to uphold the state’s effective gun laws.

At every turn, Mitch McConnell has blocked Harris, along with the rest of the Senate, from voting on the substantial gun safety measures that have passed the House. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped Harris from using her post on the Senate Judiciary Committee to speak up on the need for stronger gun laws.

“We don’t need any more tragedies…we need the United States Congress to have the courage to act.” March 14, 2018

Kamala Harris’s Plan to Address Gun Violence

Senator Harris took advantage of a televised town hall in April to announce a bold gun violence prevention platform. Her plan focuses on the executive actions that she would take to tackle this epidemic if Congress fails to enact universal background checks, pass an assault weapons ban, and repeal gun industry immunity in the first 100 days of her presidency. We break down a few of Harris’s proposed executive actions below.

Near Universal Background Checks

“It makes perfect sense that you might want to know, before someone can buy a weapon that can kill another human being, have they been convicted of a felony.” January 28, 2019

Under current federal law, only licensed dealers are required to run a background check when selling a gun. This allows criminals, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people to buy a firearm with no questions asked from an unlicensed seller, whether they meet at a gun show, online, or in a parking lot. In February, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill that would enact universal background checks and close this dangerous loophole, but Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it for a vote in the Senate. Harris’s plan calls for treating any individual who sells five or more guns per year as “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms and would require them to obtain a license and conduct background checks on their sales.

Banning Assault Rifle Imports

Federal law gives the president the power to prohibit the importation of guns not “suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” Although ATF found over two decades ago that “military-style semiautomatic rifles are not importable” due to this law, foreign manufacturers have continued to flood the country with semiautomatic rifles. Harris’s plan calls for using presidential authority to make sure that these weapons of war aren’t imported into the country.

Cracking Down on Reckless Manufacturers and Dealers

“ATF [stands for] Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Well the ATF has been doing a lot of the A and T, but not much of the F. We need to fix that.” April 22, 2019

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing America’s gun laws. Although one of ATF’s most important duties is making sure that gun manufacturers and dealers are following the law, the agency has, at times, allowed reckless behavior go unpunished. Harris has pledged to change that by calling for any dealer or manufacturer who commits a “serious and willful” violation of the law to have their license revoked.

Keeping Guns Away from Fugitives

Fugitives from justice are one of the several categories of people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm. Under the Trump administration, the FBI narrowed its definition of “fugitive from justice” to apply only to wanted people who have fled across state lines, and purged close to 500,000 records from the background check system. Harris wants to revert back to the original definition of “fugitive from justice,” which stopped over 180,000 fugitives from buying a gun between 1998 and 2017.

Our Take

From her start in Oakland, CA to her influential post in Washington, Kamala Harris has consistently pushed for safer gun laws. Now on the campaign trail, we’re glad to see such thoughtful and detailed proposals as the ones laid out above.

Americans deserve a president determined to act to save lives from gun violence. Kamala Harris plans to do just that if elected president—with or without cooperation from Congress. Her focus on executive action, coupled with a concrete legislative plan, answers the calls from all corners of our country for true leadership on this issue. As the race for the White House heats up, voters are taking note of platforms like these as they make decisions about who should be the next Democratic nominee.