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Foresight 2020: Gun Policy

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As the 2020 presidential candidate field continues to winnow, there’s more time to compare policy. But even with a much smaller field, it can still be difficult to keep track of where candidates stand. So we’re breaking down the policies behind the candidates as a part of our election series, Foresight 2020.

Our first edition is all about guns.  And a recent Gallup poll ranked gun policy as one of the top issues for voters going into 2020.

After two mass shootings happened nearly back-to-back last August – one in Dayton, Ohio and the other in El Paso, Texas – 2020 Democratic presidential candidates ramped up their rhetoric and policy proposals regarding gun control.  

Even President Donald Trump suggested he was opento expanding background checks for those who want to purchase a gun. 

Six months have passed, and several of the most vocal candidates on gun reforms dropped out of the race. But voters still put gun policy at the top of their list of concerns voters cited gun policy as the third most important issue for them going into 2020. 

So where do the candidates stand now? 

Vox’s German Lopez and Politico’s Elena Schneider unpacked it for us. 

Here are some highlights:

Overall, the Democratic candidates mostly agree on gun policy

“There’s not a ton of daylight between these candidates,” Elena Schneider said. Candidates like former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and California Senator Kamala Harris did more to divide the field regarding proposals like mandatory buybacks for assault weapons. But they’ve dropped out of the race. 

But they do vary slightly on the issue. All of them support a ban on assault weapons, but they differ on how that might be enforced

German Lopez brought up that Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed taxation requirementsfor those who don’t turn in or register their weapons. 

But the other candidates are vaguer on the exact implementation of an assault weapons ban. They want to implement an assault weapons ban, but they’re less specific on what to do with the weapons that are already out there and how gun owners might turn in their weapons.  

What has the president proposed?

After shootings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump has voiced support for stricter background checks, and even potentially for red flag laws. But Trump’s position on guns was affected by his impeachment. He needed to appeal to the base, Elena Schneider said, and those proposals largely disappeared.  

What’s the intensity gap? 

The people who tend to come out to vote based on this issue alone are staunchly pro-Second Amendment activists, German Lopez told us. Those who agree with more gun control efforts aren’t always as moved to vote by those proposals.

But Democrats have become more aggressive on this issue. In previous campaign cycles, Democrats were hesitant to lean into gun control because they were worried that it wasn’t going to be a motivating force, and instead, sparking the ire of gun-rights groups. Advocacy groups like March For Our Lives and Moms Demand action are trying to change that, and activate voters to turn out based on gun policy. 

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.