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Where 2020 Democrats stand on gun control

This image is a four-way split screen of Biden, Harris, Swalwell, and Booker.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Eric Swalwell and Cory Booker. Photos: Scott Olson/Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Images, Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rep. Eric Swalwell and Sen. Kamala Harris named gun control as one of their highest priorities at the first Democratic primary debate. Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have dedicated policy plans and town halls to gun control.

The big picture: 2020 Democrats have a bigger stake in gun control than they did in 2016, when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton only briefly addressed the issue in their primary debate. Part of the rising pressure: Two of the top five deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history — in Las Vegas and Texas — happened in 2017, and death tolls from mass shootings are rising.

Policy standouts

Sen. Kamala Harris: If Congress doesn't pass gun reform within 100 days of her potential inauguration, Harris says she would take executive action to institute background checks, require the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to revoke the licenses of gun dealers "who violate the law," and ban the importation of assault weapons.

Former tech executive Andrew Yang: Wants to implement a federal background check and federal buyback program, eliminate the gun show loophole, ban high-capacity magazines, and prohibit the manufacture and sale of bump stocks, suppressors, incendiary/exploding ammunition and grenade launcher attachments.

  • Yang references smart guns in his policy and says he plans to "invest in innovative technology that would make firearms harder to fire for non-owners of the gun."
  • Those who currently own firearms under Yang's plan would be grandfathered in with their existing licenses and receive one-time “Good Gun Owner” tax credits for adhering to additional requirements.
  • The gun show loophole refers to a "secondary market" exemption that means private gun sellers without federal licenses do not have to conduct background checks on all buyers, per PolitiFact.

Rep. Eric Swalwell: Wants the government to institute a mandatory buyback for every assault weapon in the U.S. — his proposal would not apply to pistols, shotguns or rifles.

  • When Swalwell named his top priority at the first Democratic primary debate, he said: "For Parkland, for Orlando, for every community affected by gun violence — ending gun violence."

Sen. Cory Booker: Proposed a 14-part plan in May calling for a national gun licensing program, which would force Americans to apply for 5-year gun licenses and ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: Believes only "smart guns" should be sold, or guns that require "a biometric measure" to pull the trigger. He stressed that "our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA," at the first Democratic debate, and expressed his support for government buybacks.

Rep. Tim Ryan: On debate night, he linked the question of gun control to mental illness, saying: “73% of [school shooters] feel shamed, traumatized or bullied." He called for mental health professionals to be installed in every school in the country.

  • Ryan previously received A-ratings from the NRA, but after the fatal 2017 Las Vegas shooting, he said he would donate the $20,000 he’d received from the NRA’s PAC to organizations that support gun control.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: Has said she's well-equipped to talk to gun owners about the need for gun control because she once held an A-rating with the NRA.

  • "If I want to protect my family, if I want to have a weapon in the home, that should be my right," she said in 2009. She said in 2018 she is "embarrassed" by her previous views on gun rights.

Author Marianne Williamson: Wants to ban assault rifles, semi-automatic weapons, bump stocks and high capacity magazines, implement universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods for all gun dealers, reinstate "restrictions on the ability of the mentally ill to purchase a gun," and remove "limits on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) ability to track and record gun ownership numbers."

  • Reality check: A spending bill signed by President Trump in 2018 gave the CDC the authority to study the causes of gun violence — but "researchers who study gun violence are unimpressed," NPR reports.

Standard fare

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Wants to ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons, institute universal background checks and end the gun show loophole. He says he has a D- voting record from the NRA.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Supports universal background checks and banning guns in schools. "We lose as many as were lost at Parkland every two or three years in my city alone," he said at the first Democratic debate. He is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke: Supports universal background checks and restrictions on the sale of AR-15s. He opposes requiring states to recognize concealed carry permits granted in other states.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Wants to implement universal background checks, close gun show loopholes and ban assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro: Supports universal background checks, banning assault weapons and limiting magazine capacity.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee: Voted in favor of federal legislation that banned the manufacture, sale and possession of combat-style assault weapons in 1994 — which probably cost him his House seat in 1995, CNBC reports. He supports banning bump stocks and stronger background checks.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Has dodged setting strict policy on guns or gun control for 2020, but she does support universal background checks. In response to a debate night question on her support for buyback programs, she said "we can’t treat this as an across-the-board problem. We have to treat it like a public health emergency."

  • She also emphasized the difference between guns in the hands of an "experienced" gun collector and guns used in mass shootings, per CBS.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Supports a federal ban on "military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines," stronger background checks and ending the gun show loophole.