Gun Control Takes Center Stage in 2020 Democratic Presidential Race

U.S. Senator Cory Booker on Monday released a sweeping plan to curb gun violence by creating a national licensing program and repealing a law that gives gun manufacturers legal immunity, becoming the latest Democrat in the 2020 presidential race to make gun control measures a feature of their campaign.

In the past, Democrats have feared that supporting gun restrictions could cost them the backing of working-class, swing voters – the group widely credited with tipping the 2016 presidential contest to Republican Donald Trump.

After dozens of mass shootings in recent years, however, including at schools like the February 2018 massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, curbing gun violence has become a component of the Democratic policy platform embraced by congressional and presidential candidates.

“In my community, kids fear fireworks on the Fourth of July because they sound like gunshots,” Booker said of his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, in a news release. “In communities across the country, from Newark to Charlotte, from San Diego to Chicago, and everywhere in between, Americans are being killed and families are being torn apart. We must do better. We need to do better.”

Booker’s plan would also ban assault weapons; allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate gun manufacturers; require microstamping technology be incorporated into new models of semi-automatic handguns; calls for universal background checks for gun sales; and close the “boyfriend loophole” that allows dating partners to purchase firearms after being convicted of abuse or under a restraining order. Current and former spouses convicted of abuse or under a restraining order are prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

Most but not all components of Booker’s plan would require approval of the U.S. Congress. Democrats currently control the House of Representatives and Republicans the Senate, where gun safety legislation would likely meet intense pushback.  

‘The Center Has Shifted’

“Today is more proof that the center has shifted on gun control,” Igor Volsky, founder of Guns Down America Action Fund, said in a statement. “Senator Booker has clearly listened to and heard from the majority of Americans that are crying out for a future with fewer guns. Fewer guns means safer communities.”

Senator Kamala Harris, another 2020 contender, said last month that she too would move quickly to curb gun violence if elected to the White House.

Harris said she would give Congress 100 days to pass gun-control legislation, such as a universal background checks bill or a renewal of the ban on assault weapons, before using presidential executive power to act on the issue.

Harris said she would use executive power to require sellers of five or more weapons a year to run background checks for all gun sales; revoke the license of gun manufacturers and dealers who break the law; reverse a move by Trump to redefine “fugitive from justice” that allowed those with outstanding arrest warrants to buy guns; and close the boyfriend loophole.

An assault weapons ban was enacted in 1994 during Bill Clinton’s presidency. It was among the reasons cited when Democrats lost congressional seats in the 1994 midterm elections. The ban expired in 2004.

In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry did not make gun control a focus of his campaign and was photographed with a weapon on a hunting trip. Former President Barack Obama did not make guns a focus of his 2008 or 2012 campaigns. Hillary Clinton supported gun control measures during her 2016 campaign but did not emphasize them.

But gun-control advocates say the Parkland shooting and many others, including the Las Vegas concert shooting in 2017 that left 58 dead and hundreds more wounded, and another at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub in 2016 when 49 were killed have shifted public opinion on the issue.

Second Amendment to the United States ConstitutionReuters/Ipsos polling in Feb. 2019 showed that 58 percent of Americans support policies that would make it more difficult to own a gun. About 69 percent said they strongly favored prohibiting individuals with a history of mental illness from buying a firearm. About 61 percent strongly or somewhat favored banning online sales of ammunition.

Supporting gun control measures did not hinder Democrats during the 2018 midterm congressional elections. Nearly 80 percent of the 62 newly elected Democrats included the issue in their campaign platforms. A Reuters analysis found the percentage far outstripped the proportion of Democratic candidates who did so during 2016 congressional elections.

After Democrats regained control of the House, they passed in March a universal background checks bill, the first major gun control legislation since the 1994 ban on assault weapons.

It was not taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate and Trump has threatened to veto it should it reach his desk.


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