At Las Vegas Gun Forum, Democratic Presidential Candidates To Tackle Policy

Originally published on October 2, 2019 3:30 pm

Democratic presidential candidates have been vocal about their support for gun control, but it’s been difficult to stand out in a crowded field that largely agrees on gun issues.

Nine of the candidates (Sen. Bernie Sanders will not be participating) will talk gun policy in Las Vegas on Wednesday at a forum organized by gun control advocacy groups Giffords and March For Our Lives.

The event is the day after the second anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, in which 58 people were killed and hundreds injured at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in 2017.

In the wake of the massacre, Nevada passed a series of gun control measures, including banning bump stocks, the attachment the Harvest gunman used to convert his semi-automatic rifles into virtual machine guns. The package passed also included a ‘red flag’ law, safe storage rules, and limits on blood alcohol content when possessing a firearm, controversial measures in a gun-friendly state.

The Federal Government also banned bump stocks in 2018.

The candidates appearing at the forum are:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  • South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Sanders planned to attend the forum, but cancelled campaign events due to health issues.)
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Businessman Andrew Yang

All nine candidates participating have called for tighter restrictions on guns, including broad support for re-instituting the so-called assault weapons ban, which largely outlawed military-style rifles, such as the AR-15.

A few have gone farther. Notably former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has called for a mandatory gun buyback of AR-15s and Sen. Cory Booker has proposed national licensing for guns.

Each candidate will have 30 minutes to answer questions and make their pitch during Wednesday’s forum, according to organizers.

Reflecting On The Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting

In the opening remarks for the program, Nevada Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui spoke about changes the state legislature has made since the 2017 shooting. Jauregui, who is a survivor of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, pointed to the state’s new “red flag” law among the gun control measures passed over the last two years.

Jauregui’s remarks were followed by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who gave an emotional speech about the shooting. Choking up, he said, “Even two years later, for me it’s still difficult to relive those memories.”

White Nationalism

First to take the stage, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg used part of his 30 minutes to focus on what he called the national security threat presented by white nationalism.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro echoed concerns about white nationalism in his remarks later in the program.

A Gun Buyback Program

Buttigieg said the challenge for Democratic candidates is distinguishing themselves, when they agree on the issue of guns.

Here’s a rundown of the candidates’ policy proposals on guns

And there is disagreement among the candidates on the nuances of some gun policies being discussed.

For his part, Buttigieg said no military-style weapons should be available for purchase, but expressed skepticism about the buyback program others (including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke) have advocated for.

Castro said during his remarks he would support a voluntary buyback program, and is open to discussion of a mandatory process.

Later in the afternoon when O’Rourke took the stage, he did not back down from his support for a mandatory buyback program:

How We Talk About Suicide

As part of their remarks, a number of candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, brought the role of gun suicides into the discussion.

“It is also about suicide and the lethality of suicide in America because of the availability of guns,” Warren said.

According Pew Research, 60% of gun deaths in the U.S. every year are suicides, a fact that the majority of Americans are unaware of. Warren was the first in the day so far to bring up suicide early in her remarks.

‘Living In A War Zone’

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey reflected on his experience as Mayor of Newark. “It changed me dramatically,” Booker said, “because I’ve seen the horrors of this.”

Researchers have found that some policies are more effective than others at combating different types of gun violence.

Former Vice President Joe Biden says he’s planning to commit $900 million to “to get brown and black children out of harms way” in an effort to combat gun violence in U.S. cities. Biden wants to commit funds to research “how to get out of these problems.”

Biden also said he wants to see those who “violate their oath be held accountable.”

Biden went on to point out that gun violence effects communities like his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, every day.

During his remarks later in the program, O’Rourke, praised the conviction of a Dallas police officer who shot an unarmed black man in his home last fall.

The Influence Of The Gun Industry

At the beginning of Biden’s remarks, he was asked the ongoing impeachment proceedings with President Donald Trump. Biden said that while the president was very busy, he did apparently make time for National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre.

Warren also lamented the influence of the gun industry during her remarks earlier in the day:

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