MEMO: Takeaway from the 2020 Presidential Gun Safety Forum
TO Interested Parties
DATE October 8, 2019
RE Takeaway from the 2020 Presidential Gun Safety Forum
On October 2, Giffords and March For Our Lives hosted a forum on gun safety featuring nine leading Democratic presidential candidates. More than 300 attendees heard one-on-one discussions from former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, California Senator Kamala Harris, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and businessman Andrew Yang about their individual plans around gun safety.
In an op-ed published in the Las Vegas Sun on the day of the forum, Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui of Nevada, who also survived the Route 91 shooting, and Las Vegas March For Our Lives executive director Mateo Beers, wrote “This forum demonstrates just how important this issue has become for voters who are looking for a gun safety president who will make ending the nation’s gun violence epidemic a top priority. Here in Nevada, we have shown that we can stand together and enact stronger laws that will protect our communities and save lives. It’s time Washington did the same.”
This historic gun safety forum was the culmination of a seismic shift in the politics of gun safety. Over the past several years, gun safety has become a critical issue for voters alongside health care and climate change, and it is shaping up to be a defining issue in the 2020 campaign. Americans overwhelmingly want to see action taken on gun violence—and they’re not willing to wait any longer.
In the lead up to next week’s Democratic debate, here are some key takeaways from the forum to keep in mind when you’re tuning in:
I. Democrats share many of the same gun safety solutions, but also have their own creative solutions to reducing gun violence.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg kicked off the forum, noting that “pretty much everybody in the parade of candidates you’re about to see is going to call for universal background checks, closing the hate loophole, the Charleston loophole, the boyfriend loophole, disarming domestic abusers, enacting red flag laws, extreme risk protection orders, banning the sale of assault weapons.”
He was right. All nine candidates put forward robust plans for addressing our nation’s gun violence epidemic that included many of these commonsense, broadly supported solutions. As Former Congresswoman Gabbrielle Giffords said at the opening of the forum, “Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right. The courage of new ideas.”
And new ideas are just what candidates posited at the 2020 Gun Safety Forum. Some of these ideas included:
- Senator Booker outlined a plan for a national registry for gun owners. “The public is already there,” Senator Booker said. “Well over 75 percent of Americans support gun licensing.” Booker’s plan would require prospective gun owners to submit fingerprints, complete a gun safety course, sit for an interview, and pass a background check before purchase. Vice President Biden, on the other hand, offered a proposal that would incentivize state and local governments to maintain gun licensing programs by providing federal funding, a proposal more in line with Mayor Buttigieg’s plan around gun licensing. Andrew Yang pitched his plan for a tiered gun license system, akin to driver’s license systems that have different requirements for commercial and personal licenses.
Investing in government research on gun violence:
- Several of the candidates pushed for more research on gun violence, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. Congress has long blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence as a public health problem. “The one area where, by and large, we put no federal money into researching is gun violence,” Warren said.
Gun safety technology:
- Vice President Joe Biden advocated for gun safety technology that would allow only authorized users of a firearm to pull the trigger. In that vein, Andrew Yang indicated his support for creating a tax credit to incentivize upgrading guns to use smart technology, such as biological indicators, to unlock the firearm.
Investing in preventing violent extremism:
- Mayor Pete Buttigieg called for investing one billion dollars in preventing and fighting “violent extremism.” This investment would bolster the FBI’s domestic counterterrorism staff, revitalize the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to counter violent extremism, and study whether there is a link between white supremacist groups and gun violence.
Taxing firearms and ammunition:
- Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro pitched his plan for doubling excise taxes on ammunition to 20%, which combined with a tax on guns is projected to raise $600 million to $700 million that would also go towards gun violence prevention programs.
II. Candidates understand that gun violence is not just about mass shootings.
Though the 2020 presidential gun safety forum was held two years after the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, candidates also made sure to focus on the everyday gun violence that kills 100 Americans a day, from firearm suicides and unintentional shootings to community violence and intimate partner homicides.
Firearm suicide makes up the majority of both gun deaths and suicides in the US, resulting in nearly 22,000 deaths a year.
- Mayor Pete Buttigieg explained that suicide is the piece of the gun violence epidemic that needs to come “out of the shadows.” “We’ve got to make it OK to talk about,” he said. “W e are more likely to lose someone to suicide if they attempt suicide with a gun,” noting that “we have got to discuss the mental health issue without ever allowing to be an excuse to fail to act on gun policy.” Mayor Buttigieg went on to explain how commonsense regulations such as extreme risk protection orders can help save lives if someone with access to a gun is experiencing suicidal ideation.
- Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out that even a seven-day waiting period for gun purchases would drop gun suicides by between 7 and 11 percent.
For many communities, gun violence is a daily threat. At the forum, several attendees who had been personally impacted by gun violence in their neighborhoods posed questions to the candidates about how to mitigate this everyday gun violence that often doesn’t receive national attention.
- Senator Cory Booker spoke passionately about witnessing firsthand the everyday scourge of gun violence in his low-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. “We cannot wait for this hell to be visited upon your community for you to be activated for this fight,” he said. “It is a life and death issue for people in communities like mine.”
- Vice President Joe Biden discussed his plan to spend $900 million over eight years on programs designed to reduce gun violence in the 40 cities hardest hit by gun violence.
- Senator Kamala Harris talked about giving children the resources they need to escape the “trauma-inducing” cycle of poverty that causes them to act out in “predictable ways.” She also recommended investing $100 billion in neighborhoods that have historically been redlined, whose inhabitants are frequently denied funds for mortgages because of race. Under Senator Harris’s proposal, residents of such neighborhoods and of federally subsidized housing would receive grants for down payments and closing costs so they could buy homes. Research has connected home ownership with lower crime rates.
- Andrew Yang discussed the underlying causes of gun violence, arguing that providing a basic income of $1,000 a month for every adult could help address gun violence: “And there are many reasons why I’m certain we should do this, but it even impacts the causes, the underlying root causes of gun violence, because if you look at the series of events that lead to gun violence, what are we talking about? We’re talking about the composition and stress levels in homes, in the family.”
- Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro also talked about the importance of creating after-school programs for at-risk youth, explaining that he invested in similar opportunities as mayor of San Antonio and saw positive results. “We know…between 3:00 and 7:00pm, there’s an increased likelihood that our young people will meet violence… I want to give them an enriching and nourishing environment…. I would take the 6 or 7 hundred million dollars from an excise tax from ammunition and guns, and invest them in those efforts.”
Women in the US are 25 times more likely to be killed by guns than women in other countries, and approximately 4.5 million American women report that they have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. Access to a gun makes it five times more likely that a woman with an abusive partner will be killed.
- Senator Amy Klobuchar said, “Domestic violence is one of those day-to-day crimes that we don’t always talk about… Domestic violence…is not just about the immediate victim, it’s about our entire community. And so when we think about this gun issue, we just can’t isolate it to the mass shootings.” She went on to cite policies and tactics such as universal background checks, Centers for Disease Control research, and straw purchasing laws as fundamental ways to decrease gun-related deaths in domestic violence situations.
- Senator Cory Booker was asked a question by Ruth Glenn, a domestic violence survivor and the president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about closing loopholes for spouses who stalk or assault their significant other — called the “boyfriend loophole.” Senator Booker responded by saying, “Thank you for your courage…First of all, through executive action, I will close the boyfriend loophole right away and make sure that if you are convicted for stalking your girlfriend, you cannot have a gun.”
III. The issue of guns will have staying power through 2020.
With gun deaths in the United States reaching their highest level in almost 40 years, it’s clear that the US faces a public health crisis on a massive scale. According to Pew Research Center surveys, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans support gun safety proposals like universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. As many Democratic candidates noted at the forum, universal background checks are supported by 90-plus percent of Americans.
The candidates who attended the forum recognize that Americans are demanding commonsense gun safety laws—and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
- Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “This is not going to be a one and done,” she said. Warren likened gun violence to automobile deaths in the 1960s. The country focused on bringing those numbers down through research-based policy solutions—first with safety glass and seatbelts, then airbags and other innovations. Senator Warren said she’s committed to bringing the same persistence to our gun violence epidemic.
IV. States have taken the lead on enacting gun safety measures in recent years, but it’s time for federal action.
Across the country, states have taken the lead on enacting gun safety laws that are saving lives. Earlier this year, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, who ran on a bold gun safety platform, and the state legislature enacted the strongest gun laws the state has seen in decades. They closed a background check loophole that allowed unlicensed sellers to circumvent background checks, banned bump stocks, enacted red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk of harming themselves or others, and more.
In addition, in the months since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, over 110 gun safety bills have been signed into law in 32 states and Washington DC. But even if one state has strong gun laws, a neighboring state’s lax laws make it all too easy for dangerous individuals to acquire guns and traffic them into states with strong gun laws. The candidates attending the forum voiced support for state efforts to reduce gun violence, but also acknowledged the need for federal action to remedy our inconsistent patchwork of state laws.
- Senator Booker said guns used in states with strong gun laws are frequently transported from states with lax laws. Eighty percent of gun deaths in New Jersey are a result of out-of-state weapons, according to statistics compiled by the state.
- Several of the candidates pledged to take executive action if Congress remains gridlocked. Senator Warren said she would use the power of the White House to increase scrutiny of gun sellers and roll back Donald Trump’s executive actions on guns on her first day in office. Senator Harris said that if Congress doesn’t act in her first 100 days in office, she would “take executive action to put a comprehensive background check system in place” and ban assault weapons.
V. The gun safety movement is eclipsing the gun lobby.
In the 2018 midterm elections, gun safety moved from third rail to top tier in some of the most contentious campaigns. Campaign ads touting gun safety far outnumbered ones focused on gun rights. And gun safety groups like Giffords outspent the NRA by tens of millions of dollars, even in the deepest of red states, like Texas. While the NRA’s approval rating continues to decline, the momentum behind gun safety supporters is only accelerating.
Many of the candidates were pointed in their criticism of the gun lobby’s greed and bullying, and pledged to stand up to gun manufacturers and the gun lobby if elected.
- Mayor Buttigieg stressed that the NRA’s position on universal background checks is not indicative of the larger population’s views. “When you have the NRA fighting it tooth and nail, they’re not speaking for gun owners—they’re speaking for gun company executives,” Buttigieg said.
- Andrew Yang pledged to give all Americans $100 to donate to candidates or causes, which he argued would weaken the gun lobby that has prevented the country from treating gun violence as what it is: a public health crisis. “When the NRA lobbyists or the gun lobby comes along and says, ‘I’m going to give you $100,000 to bury this legislation,’ you say, ‘I don’t care about your $100,000. I’m getting $1 million from the people.’ That’s how we override the stranglehold,” he said. “We break the stranglehold that the NRA and the gun lobbies have over our laws.”
If it wasn’t already clear before the 2020 Gun Safety Forum, it’s eminently clear now: the leading Democratic presidential candidates stand in sharp contrast to President Trump on the critical issue of gun violence. Any one of them is poised to do more to save lives in their first 100 days than Trump has done in his entire term so far.