Democrats Debate Their Assault Weapons Plans

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THE TRACE.ORG October 16, 2019 – The 2020 Democratic candidates remain united on enacting comprehensive federal gun reforms. To tease out their differences, the moderators of last night’s debate teed up a showdown on the more divisive question of a mandatory assault weapons buyback:

Beto O’Rourke defended his call for a mandatory buyback program
on logical grounds, arguing that candidates who conclude that
military-inspired rifles are too dangerous for civilian sales should also
support removing existing weapons from circulation. But he moderated his rhetoric, saying that
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” does not mean door-to-door
searches. Instead, O’Rourke would appeal to gun owners’ sense of
responsibility: “The expectation is that Americans will follow the law. I
believe in this country. I believe in my fellow Americans. I believe that they
will do the right thing.” Blatant non-compliers, under his approach, would
face unspecified “consequences from law enforcement.” 

Pete Buttigieg continued his criticism of O’Rourke’s
mandatory buyback pitch as a campaign ploy: “We cannot wait for
purity tests. We have to just get something his done.” The South Bend mayor
favors pushing for bans on new assault-style weapons and high capacity
magazines, universal background checks, and red flag laws, which he notably
tied to reducing the suicides “which are not being talked about nearly enough
as a huge part of the gun violence epidemic in this country.”  

Julián Castro explained his opposition to mandatory gun buybacks by
touching on the problem of police shootings: “In the places that I grew up
in, we weren’t exactly looking for another reason for cops to come banging on
the door.”

Kamala Harris supported mandatory buybacks but pivoted to focus
on her vow to use executive actions to enact new gun safety measures in the
face of Congressional gridlock. We explored the limits of that approach here. 

Joe Biden pitched his alternative to aggressive regulation of existing assault-style weapons: give owners the option of selling those guns to the government, or registering them.

Senator Elizabeth Warren also favored registration, which
was successfully used to limit civilian ownership of fully automatic rifles
under the National Firearms Act: “I want to use the method we used, for
example, with machine guns. We registered them, we put in a huge penalty if you
didn’t register them, and a huge tax on them, and then let people turn them in,
and it got machine guns out of the hands of people.”

Senator Cory Booker used his time to highlight his support for
mandatory gun licensing: “I’m living with a sense of urgency on this
problem … like millions of Americans, we live in communities where these
weapons, where these gun shots are real every single day.” 

You can find a full debate transcript here. [Read More]

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