Countdown to 2020: Joe Biden 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.

Joe Biden’s Record on Gun Safety

Vice President Biden has the longest gun safety track record of any of the 2020 Democratic candidates. While serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and 1990s, Biden was closely involved in the passage of several pieces of gun-related legislation. The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, crafted as a compromise between opposing sides, significantly loosened federal regulations on gun sales while at the same time outlawing the production of machine guns. Biden went on to successfully push for the Brady Bill that established the NICS background check system for gun purchases in 1993, and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited the future manufacture of assault weapons in 1994. The ban expired in 2004, but taken together, these laws created much of the current system we have for keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

His experience of taking on the gun lobby made Vice President Biden the obvious choice to lead President Obama’s task force on potential executive actions in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. The task force met with 229 groups from across the political spectrum and proposed 23 executive actions to keep our communities safe from gun violence, all of which were signed by President Obama. Biden knows that the executive branch can only do so much on its own, however, which is why he’s been a strong voice for commonsense gun safety legislation since entering the presidential contest in April.

Joe Biden’s Plan to Address Gun Violence

Vice President Biden released his comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence on the two-year anniversary of the Route 91 Music Festival shooting on October 1. Biden is calling for universal background checks, regulating assault weapons, and extreme risk protection orders in addition to several other measures which are discussed in greater detail below.

Investing in Community Violence Intervention

While horrific mass shootings often drive much of the discussion around gun violence in our country, the reality is that far more Americans are killed in interpersonal shootings that receive a fraction of the news coverage. These shootings are disproportionately concentrated in underserved communities of color. In 2017, black men made up less than 7% of the population, but accounted for more than half of gun homicide victims.

Fortunately, cities across the country have made incredible progress in reducing homicides by investing in evidenced-based violence intervention programs. Oakland, for example, reduced shootings by 50% over five years by supporting programs that offer both positive and negative incentives to individuals at the highest risk for committing violence. Yet such programs are not effective without consistent funding. Biden’s plan calls for the creation of a $900 million initiative in 40 cities across the country that would save an estimated 12,000 lives over eight years.

Enhancing Gun Safety Technology

Guns are fired by unintended users far too frequently in America. Thousands of children are unintentionally shot every year, and gun suicide is the third-leading cause of injury death for Americans aged 10 to 19. Furthermore, an estimated 400,000 firearms are stolen every year, many of which go on to be used in crime.

Gun safety technology addresses these problems by ensuring that the proper owner of a firearm is the only person who can fire it. This technology includes personalized guns as well as personalized accessories that help secure firearms, which can stop children from firing household guns, reduce teen suicides, and prevent criminal assaults with stolen weapons. Biden’s plan calls for putting the country on a path to a future where every firearm that is sold is equipped with such technology.

“We should have smart guns. No gun should be able to be sold unless your biometric measure can pull that trigger. It’s within our right to do that. We can do that.” June 27, 2019

Ensuring the Relinquishment of Firearms by Prohibited Purchasers

Federal law outlines the categories of people who are prohibited from buying or possessing a firearm: criminals, domestic abusers, and other dangerous individuals. While Congress often debates the best way to ensure that prohibited people are not able to buy firearms, many of our elected leaders spend far less time thinking about how to make sure that someone who becomes prohibited is actually disarmed. As a result, a staggering number of dangerous people still have access to firearms despite losing the right to own them.

Relinquishment laws are largely handled at the state level. That’s why Biden’s plan calls for the FBI and ATF to develop a model relinquishment program and then provide technical and financial assistance to state and local governments to help ensure that people who are convicted of a felony or the subject of a domestic violence restraining order are truly giving up their guns.

Our Take

Vice President Joe Biden has a long history of standing up to the NRA and taking action to make Americans safer from gun violence. At our 2020 Gun Safety Forum, Biden emphasized his commitment to this critical issue and his comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and save lives.

Our next president must understand the stakes of this urgent public health crisis. Time and time again, Vice President Biden has indicated that he understands these stakes and isn’t content to sit idly by as 40,000 Americans die from this epidemic every year.