Countdown to 2020: Tom Steyer 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.

Tom Steyer’s Record on Gun Safety

Tom Steyer has spent most of his adult life in business, where the fortune he amassed allowed him to retire and focus full-time on philanthropy. In 2013, Steyer founded NextGen America, a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing action on progressive issues by increasing participation in democracy.

The Parkland tragedy inspired young voters across the country to organize around gun violence prevention. To aid their efforts, NextGen joined Giffords and Everytown for Gun Safety to launch Our Lives, Our Vote, a program designed to register young people to vote in states where NRA-aligned candidates threatened the safety of schools and communities. Our Lives, Our Vote eventually registered over 60,000 18-and-19 year olds to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, which saw the highest participation among young voters in the past quarter-century.

Tom Steyer’s Plan to Address Gun Violence

“As president, I will work tirelessly toward a new definition of ending gun violence by taking back our democracy, committing to long overdue gun reforms, and working together for safety and peace.” September 26, 2019

Steyer announced a wide-ranging gun violence prevention plan last fall that affirmed his commitment to keeping American communities safe. The plan starts by focusing on the democratic reforms which Steyer believes will be valuable in passing comprehensive gun safety measures before detailing several policies he supports, including universal background checks, extreme risk laws, and firearms licensing. We break down a few more elements of Steyer’s plan below:

Repeal the Tiahrt Amendments

“This has been decades of unchecked gun violence in the country. And why is that? It’s because the gun manufacturers through the NRA control the Republican Party.” August 7, 2019

For years, the gun lobby has leveraged its outsized and corrupting influence over American politics to hamstring law enforcement’s ability to investigate gun violence. These restrictions have largely been put in place through so-called “riders” to must-pass appropriations bills that keep the government open. A series of those riders are called the Tiahrt Amendments, named for their sponsor, former Republican Congressman Todd Tiahrt.

The Tiahrt Amendments require the FBI to destroy all approved gun purchaser records within 24 hours and prohibit ATF from disclosing data on crime gun traces to the public or requiring gun dealers to share their inventories. Steyer’s gun safety plan calls for repealing the Tiahrt Amendments and other harmful riders that needlessly prevent law enforcement from doing their job to keep our communities safe.

Invest in Community-Based Violence Intervention

While mass shootings often draw the most attention from the media and the public, Steyer knows that shootings concentrated in cities across the country make up the majority of gun homicides in America. This violence is not inevitable—cities that have made consistent and significant investments in community intervention strategies have seen dramatic decreases in shootings. A recent comprehensive report from Giffords Law Center detailed how Oakland, California, managed to cut its homicides and nonfatal shootings in half in just six years.

Steyer’s plan calls for directing federal funding to evidenced-based intervention programs in cities across the country, an investment that has the potential to save thousands of lives each year.

Close the Boyfriend and Stalker Loopholes

The NRA provoked outrage last year when it came out in opposition to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), bipartisan legislation that would close the boyfriend and stalker loopholes that allow domestic abusers to obtain firearms. In a surprising move, the NRA called on its allies in Congress to vote against the bill, citing provisions intended to disarm people convicted of violence against a dating partner or stalking. In a sign of the waning influence of the gun lobby, 33 Republicans broke ranks from the NRA and supported the legislation.

Since then, VAWA has languished in Mitch McConnell’s Senate without so much as a hearing. Tom Steyer’s plan calls for passing this critical piece of legislation and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.

Our Take

With his campaign’s focus on the existential crisis of climate change, Tom Steyer has made it clear that he won’t shy away from tackling the major challenges of our era. He likewise wants to work to reduce the public health epidemic of gun violence, a crisis that costs nearly 40,000 lives in the United States every year. Through his work with NextGen America and the comprehensive plan plan released by campaign, Steyer is helping ensure this critical issue stays where it belongs: at the forefront of this election.