Wondering Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Gun Control?
Here's everything you need to know, from laws they've already written to their plans for the future.
An unspoken part of any tragedy is the urgency that follows: Where do we go from here? How do we take care of each other? How do we keep this from happening again? When it comes to the United States and gun violence, we’ve been asking the same questions too frequently, as too many lives continue to be taken, and too few laws are changed to stop the cycle. But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking.
In the aftermath of the early August shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, where a collective 31 people were murdered within 24 hours, “What are we going to do?” remains one of the critical questions we can ask elected officials, including those running for president in 2020. During July’s Democratic debates, candidates proposed everything from universal background checks to assault weapons bans.
“First of all, the primary season is really the time when candidates are able to put forward their most innovative ideas,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, tells InStyle. “So that’s an important time for Americans to look at the candidates and see which solutions resonate with them.” On August 10th, candidates including Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee, John Hickenlooper, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill de Blasio, Julián Castro, Pete Buttigieg, Steve Bullock, Joe Biden, and Michael Bennet will attend the first presidential Gun Sense Forum launched by Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Students Demand Action. That will be an opportunity for each of them to continue the conversation on where we go from here, and to set them selves apart from one another by proposing bold legislation to begin saving lives.
If you’re narrowing down whom you plan to put your votes and dollars behind, Watts encourages checking into a candidate’s NRA rating. “If they have a high rating from the NRA, then they likely buy into the gun lobby’s agenda,” she says. “And if they’re equivocating and not saying either way, then that’s when it’s really up to constituents or the public to make calls into those candidates and get a real answer.” Moms Demand Action volunteers show up at rallies and town halls to ensure “we’re asking the questions, keeping their feet to the fire, and even if they do support us, we want [preventing gun violence] to be more than a nice-to-do; it should be a priority to solve this problem.” In addition to exploring nuances in the presidential candidates’ gun policies below, visit Mom’s Demand Action’s website, GunSenseVoter.org, which outlines where other state and local candidates stand on the issue.
The majority of the Democratic presidential candidates share some basic beliefs on gun control: Most are in favor of background checks, banning assault weapons, and closing loopholes related to domestic abuse and gun show sales. Still, there are instances where some candidates have taken their plans a few steps further. Here’s what that looks like.
Nearly from the start of her candidacy, Harris has come out strong on gun control: She outlined on her website that when her presidency begins, so does a strict countdown for Congress: They have 100 days to pass an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and repeal the NRA’s corporate gun manufacturer and dealer immunity bill (which includes selling guns to a “straw purchaser,” someone buying on behalf of a criminal, or marketing assault weapons to kids via video games), or she’ll take executive action to get it done. In addition, Harris has detailed closing the “boyfriend loophole” to stop those convicted of domestic violence from getting firearms.
After delivering powerful statements following the El Paso shooting, O’Rourke shared that he was open to a mandatory gun buyback program, something that wasn’t part of his initial gun control plans (which includes funding for community programs connected to education around gun violence). Like other candidates, he supports closing gun law loopholes, banning assault weapons, and universal background checks.
It’s not surprising that Warren has a plan for gun control: She co-sponsored the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act (alongside Klobuchar and Gillibrand, among others), which prohibits the transfer of a large-capacity device that accepts more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
As reported by Refinery29, Warren wrote letters to gun company shareholders asking them to join the fight to stop gun violence following Parkland. In addition to universal background checks, banning assault weapons, and closing gun law loopholes, Warren’s platform includes stopping limits on gun violence research.
As a Senator representing Minnesota, Klobuchar represents many constituents who hunt — and that hasn’t stopped her from working for increased gun control. Klobuchar’s policy plan includes closing gun show loopholes (which allow people to bypass typical safety checks to buy weapons at unregulated trade shows), universal background checks, and banning bumpstocks (which speed up the rate of gunfire). One of the cornerstones of her gun policy is that she’s the author of a proposal that would close the “boyfriend loophole,” about which she said, “as a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand how domestic violence and stalking force women to live in fear and pain — at its worst, it can even become deadly.”
While his website doesn’t include a gun policy plan, Castro supported the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, put forth by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Chris Murphy, and Richard Blumenthal. Castro mentioned during a CNN Town Hall that he supports universal background checks, like other candidates, but has said “it's also about things like mental health that touch on what leads people to use guns in a bad way.”
On August 5th, Buttigieg released a substantial “Action Plan to Combat the National Threat Posed by Hate and the Gun Lobby” that includes dedicating $1 billion to preventing radicalization and violent extremism, and stopping the spread of gender-based violence, in addition to resuming federal funding for gun violence research. Buttigieg has also offered a comprehensive plan for individuals to make a difference on this issue, including calling your Senators at 877–615–7198 to demand that they come back from August recess to take action against gun violence. (hear that, Mitch McConnell?)
Bill de Blasio
Earlier this week, de Blasio told POLITICO he thinks you can “protect the Second Amendment and still put a series of protections in place,” so, like other Dems, he supports banning assault weapons and background checks. De Blasio also joined the bipartisan national group that advocates for gun control, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
In 2016, Bullock won reelection by opposing the assault weapons ban and universal background checks, before reversing his position ahead of the 2020 presidential race. He called on fellow gun owners to support gun reform laws, and recently shared that his then-11-year-old nephew was killed in a school shooting two decades ago, when a classmate brought a gun to school.
Booker’s website refers to his plan as the “most sweeping gun violence prevention plan in history,” including gun licensing, limiting buyers to one handgun per month, and funding community-based violence intervention programs, in addition to closing gun law loopholes, passing universal background checks, and banning assault weapons. Earlier this week, Booker gave an impassioned speech addressing gun violence and white supremacy. His plans for gun control are considered among the most ambitious plans for Democractic candidates.
Biden recently said he’d implement a national buyback program, and he’d previously supported universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, like other Dems. His gun policy platform is still forthcoming, but Biden has said he doesn’t believe a licensing plan would be effective. Historically, Biden spearheaded the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and is considered progressive on gun control, though he voted for a bill the NRA loved, the Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986.
Bennet said he thinks the Senate should pass gun control legislation mandating federal criminal background checks, and supports assault weapons bans. He has said that voting to close the gun show loophole following Columbine made Colorado safer.
Despite voting against a major piece of gun legislation in 1993 (the Brady Bill, which created the background check system), Sanders now plans to expand background checks, end “straw purchases” where people buy guns on behalf of criminals, tackle the NRA’s grip on Washington, and ban the sale of assault weapons.
According to his website, in addition to supporting background checks and banning bump stocks, Delaney calls for national extreme risk protection order laws that allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts for restricted gun access for at-risk people.
One of the most fascinating parts of Gillibrand’s background — and a frequent talking point — is that her NRA rating shifted from an A to an F after she listened to families who had been affected by gun violence, and resolved to put what was best for her community and country above her own self-interest.
She wants to combat federal “gun trafficking,” close loopholes, pass background checks, and increase federal spending directed toward stopping gun violence.
Yang’s plan includes a three-tier program for a gun ownership license that begins with federal background checks, and has different tiers for safety courses for basic hunting rifles and handguns, passing an advanced firearm safety class, and a final tier that includes submission of fingerprints and DNA to the FBI if you want a license for “advanced” weapons. Yang also supports banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.
Following the Aurora shooting, Hickenlooper signed into law background checks for private and online gun sales, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. Continuing that work, he wants to implement a national gun licensing program and increase local law enforcement training, in addition to addressing gun violence as a public health issue.
Ryan also previously had an A grade from the NRA, but following position changes after Sandy Hook, he earned an F. Now, he focuses on mental health as a means of limiting gun violence, including putting mental health counselors in all schools, and reform around “trauma-based care.” He has also said he supports background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of individuals on the terror watch list.
Gabbard’s website shares her record on gun violence rather than a policy plan, but she’s supported the Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act, and H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, that requires a background check on all firearm sales.
In May, Inslee signed a group of bills into law as governor aimed at reducing gun violence. This week, he announced a 10-point plan aimed at reducing gun violence and ending white nationalism, including addressing easy access to firearms by banning untraceable firearms, and notifying state law enforcement when someone “lies and tries” to buy a gun when they’re ineligible to own a firearm.
According to her website, Williamson believes in mandatory waiting periods for gun dealers, banning bump stocks and eliminating the sale of assault rifles, and restricting gun use around children, requiring child safety locks on all guns, in addition to universal background checks.