As Democratic voters settle in to decide which candidate to support in the presidential primary contest, they’ll notice two things about their gun control policies.
First, the Democratic Party as a whole has tilted to the left on pushing for increasingly expansive federal gun control policies. Second, there’s not much broad-stroke distinction between the candidates’ views on how far to go.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates agree on big gun control policies, including banning the sale of semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15. After deadly mass shootings and a mounting suicide toll, they’ve called out the president and the powerful National Rifle Assn., the gun rights group that spent more than $30 million to help put Donald Trump in the White House.
It’s in the details that differences emerge. Should the U.S. establish a gun buyback system? How far should it go? Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on gun laws:
‘I know what it takes to beat the NRA, because I’ve done it twice before.’
In the Senate, where Joe Biden served from 1973 to 2009, he helped lay the foundation for the current background-check system and was one of the main supporters of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which lasted for a decade. Biden had hoped to revive the ban, along with other gun control policies, when he was vice president in the Obama administration, but he was stymied by pushback from Republicans and the NRA.
He’s now hoping to give the ban another go as president and require existing owners to register those guns with the government or sell them in a federal buyback program.
‘I didn’t accept gun violence ripping apart our cities and communities every day and I’m going to do everything I can to change the administration and Washington and fight back against this evil. It’s not the only problem this country has, but it’s certainly one that we can focus on today.’
Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has a long history of gun control advocacy, and has poured a portion of his fortune into the cause in recent years. During the Obama administration, when momentum for stronger laws flagged in Congress, activists and the White House turned to the billionaire, who funded a campaign to counter the NRA’s influence.
He supports banning assault weapons and creating a background check program to keep guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, just like most of the other Democratic candidates. Bloomberg, however, does not support a gun buyback program, saying it would not be possible to get all the guns back. Instead, he would settle for prohibiting sales of automatic weapons, with an exception for military and law enforcement personnel.
Bloomberg co-founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns and later joined Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in the creation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for policy change to address gun violence. His presidential campaign has run an ad listing each school shooting since President Trump has been in office.
‘We cannot wait for purity tests. We have to just get something done.’
When he was mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg presided over a Rust Belt community racked by gun violence. His calls for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and gun licensing come with a proposal for “urban gun violence intervention programs” that would address root causes of violence.
Buttigieg has also called for banning people convicted of hate crimes from buying or owning guns. But he has also pointedly warned that confiscations of assault weapons might bring a political backlash that could imperil the chance for more moderate changes.
‘I will uphold our constitutional right to bear arms while also upholding our responsibility to keep our children and communities safe from people who seek to do us harm.’
Gabbard is something of an outlier in the Democratic field for how muted her stances on gun control have been in a campaign filled with wonky, detailed proposals.
Gabbard supports some of the same big policies the rest of the Democratic field does — an assault weapons ban and universal background checks — but she’s said little about her other positions.
‘I come from a state that has a proud tradition of hunting and fishing, so I look at all these proposals and I say, “Does this hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand?” And when I look at things like universal background checks, they don’t do that.’
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Midwestern moderate who has pitched herself as the candidate best positioned to reach Trump voters, is nonetheless in step with the rest of the Democratic field when it comes to guns. She would ban assault weapons, require universal background checks and pursue “red flag” laws allowing authorities to take guns away from high-risk gun owners.
But she also positions herself as a defender of hunters, often asking of policies, “Does this hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand?”
‘I do not think it is unreasonable to say that you should be able to go to the store without the fear of being gunned down. We can and we will end the epidemic of gun violence in this country.’
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has taken somewhat moderate positions on gun control in the past — voting against a federal background-check system in 1993 and at one point earning a C- grade from the NRA, which is more prone to giving Democrats failing grades — but no longer.
Sanders has since unequivocally called for a ban on assault weapons sales and for treating the ownership of existing weapons as the government treats that of fully automatic weapons, which are heavily restricted.
‘The gun debate isn’t a conversation about the 2nd Amendment. It is a conversation about corruption and cowardice. Members of Congress should be held accountable to the people — not special interests and gun manufacturers.’
Billionaire former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer has previously used his self-funded nonprofit NextGen America to help register high school students to vote after the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Steyer has framed his campaign around building grass-roots power for voters, and he has linked his main gun control policies — an assault weapons ban and universal gun licensing and background checks — to what he sees as structural challenges to the NRA’s lobbying power: campaign finance reform, expanded voter registration and a bolstered Internal Revenue Service to scrutinize industry-backed nonprofits such as the NRA.
‘The NRA is a corrupt group of well-financed extremists who have made it perfectly clear that they will never put the safety of the American people first. We must hold them accountable.’
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has linked her plans for gun restrictions — including mandatory licensing, universal background checks and an assault weapons ban — with a call to end the filibuster, which she sees as potentially dooming any such legislation in the Senate. She has also proposed taking extensive administrative action that would allow to her to avoid Congress, where Republicans hope to maintain a majority in the Senate.
Her administration, she says, would take a close look at the NRA. In a blog post revealing some of her gun control proposals, she said the organization “is accused of exploiting loopholes in federal laws governing nonprofit spending to divert member dues into lavish payments for its board members and senior leadership. She said she would appoint an attorney general committed to investigating such practices as well as banks that she says helped the NRA “skirt the rules.”
Times staff writer Melissa Gomez contributed to this report.