Bulletproof backpacks and active shooter drills. A president continually floating the possibility of a connection between mental illness and mass violence. A nation in shock. This is the United States in the face of an ongoing epidemic of gun violence. A poll conducted in time for the first anniversary of the Parkland shooting found that 69 percent of Americans want tougher gun laws but have a serious lack of confidence that lawmakers will do anything.
History supports this level of skepticism but the tide seems to be turning. There are at least a dozen relatively serious contenders in the 2020 presidential election and many of them have released comprehensive platforms to address gun violence. This issue may have stagnated (or fallen to states to handle) since Sandy Hook, but it’s certainly on the minds of those who would lead the nation. Below, we’ve compiled the gun control policies of all of the top presidential candidates — the incumbent and all Democrats who have qualified for the third round of debates.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Former Vice President and current front-runner Biden has not yet released a gun control platform, but as part of his Education platform he promised to push for “legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” which would echo the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban — which he helped pass during his tenure in Senate. Further, during the June primary debate, he advocated for the use of smart guns (weapons with biometric technology that only allow the owner to pull the trigger).
He said, “No gun should be able to be sold unless your biometric measure could pull that trigger. It’s within our right to do that. We can do that. Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA. The gun manufacturers.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to Biden’s career: he expressed interest in smart gun technology as early as January 2013 — right after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook.
Booker released a comprehensive gun control platform in early May, which we covered in-depth. Here are the highlights of his 14-part proposal:
- Ban assault weapons.
- Create a federal gun licensing program which will require extensive background checks, gun safety courses, and an interview process to procure a five-year license to carry a handgun.
- Close purchase loopholes like the boyfriend loophole and the gun show loophole.
- Fund research that approaches gun violence as a public health issue.
- End legal immunity for gun manufacturers.
Booker’s proposal is one of the most comprehensive platforms we have from any of the candidates, and it may just be the cornerstone of his campaign.
On August 6, the Mayor of South Bend released a gun control platform that links gun violence and domestic terrorism called, “An Action Plan to Combat the National Threat Posed by Hate and the Gun Lobby,” the most highlighted text of which was, “After foreign terrorist attacks, airport travelers have to take off their shoes. After three mass shootings in a single week, Congress takes off for recess.” Ooohhh, burn Mayor Pete!
- Create a $1 billion fund to combat “radicalization and violent extremism” from white nationalists by increasing staff dedicated to monitoring domestic terrorism threats, creating comprehensive databases to track potential domestic terrorists, and creating outreach and prevention programs.
- Create a universal background check system and close purchase loopholes.
- Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
- Create a nationwide gun licensing program (similar to Booker’s program, but Buttigieg’s proposal has fewer details)
- Fund gun violence research.
- Address internet radicalization.
- End the filibuster (which prevented the post-Sandy Hook gun control bill from passing the Senate despite having 54 votes).
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Castro, who officially made the September debate stage on August 20, released what he calls the “People First Plan To Disarm Hate” on August 9. Like Buttigieg’s plan, Castro’s plan makes a direct connection between gun violence and growing white nationalism in the U.S.
Castro calls the problem a “toxic brew of guns and hate.” Here’s how he would approach the issue:
- Address rising white nationalist threats by reforming policing to “address racial disparities” in how and why communities are policed and investing in programs that recognize and combat domestic terrorist threats.
- Address rising extremism and radicalization on the internet by committing to the Christchurch Call to eliminate extremist content online.
- End the firearm dealer licensing loophole, the Charleston loophole, the boyfriend loophole, and include unmarried domestic partners under the protection of the Violence Against Women Act (which would be an even more stringent means of closing the boyfriend loophole).
- Create universal background checks.
- Create a minimum seven-day waiting period.
- Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
- Create a federal licensing program which requires an FBI interview, extensive background check, and gun safety courses.
- Study gun violence as a public health issue.
- Raise taxes on handguns and ammunition and use the revenue to fund gun violence prevention programs.
This platform shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following Castro. In 2012, along with twin brother and current Congressman Joaquin, Castro called for an assault weapons ban and eliminating the gun show loophole.
In late April, Harris proposed a slate of executive actions to address gun violence in the first 100 days of her administration. They are:
- Mandatory background checks for anyone buying from a dealer who sells more than five guns per year.
- Closing the boyfriend loophole.
- Repealing a law preventing gun manufacturers from being sued by victims (and/or their families) of gun violence.
More recently, she discussed the connection between white nationalism and gun violence — in light of the recent terrorist attack in El Paso — and called for a red flag law she’s calling a “domestic terrorism prevention order.” The law would “would give law enforcement and family members of suspected white nationalists or domestic terrorists the ability to petition a federal court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns if the person exhibits clear evidence of being a danger.”
Harris would also introduce an executive order that would require mandatory background checks on all online gun sales.