Gun violence is obviously a problem in the United States. More than 40,000 people die a year from gun violence and there are 400 million privately owned guns, more than there are American citizens. It makes sense that cracking down on illegal gun trafficking, criminal gun sellers and manufacturers, and enacting federal background checks are the bread and butter of most Democratic candidacies for the presidency. While Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and other candidates all have gun control plans, there are differences between them.
Indeed, every single frontrunner candidate has announced fairly comprehensive approaches to curbing gun violence in the United States, which just experienced its 251st mass shooting. Many policies call out Trump administration gun actions by name. Since Trump has become president, he’s lowered the standards for being eligible for purchasing a gun, made it easier to use 3-D printed gun technology, and reversed the ATF ruling that used to prohibit citizens from converting their pistols to rifles. He also made it easier for people on arrest warrants to purchase guns.
Many democratic candidates want to not just reverse Trump actions, but also go further on gun control than any government has dared to go before. But where does everyone who is polling above one percent fall? Here’s what to know about their policies on gun control.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden, the frontrunner so far of the 2020 Democratic primary, has called for an assault weapons buyback program much like those that took place in New Zealand and Australia in wake of mass shootings. He also supports universal background checks (there’s a bill on that sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk right now) and reinstating the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazines, which was a piece of policy he helped craft in 1994.
On Monday, August 11, the former Vice President wrote an op-Ed for the New York Times on his gun control plans. Beyond his initial calls on assault weapons, buy backs, and banning high capacity magazines, he also calls to ban gun manufacturers from building modifications to their products that make pistols as deadly as rifles, for example, which is how the Dayton, Ohio shooter retrofitted his gun to make it far more deadly. He also wants to build smart-gun technology, which has long been opposed by gun manufacturers.
Senator Elizabeth Warren
A week after the mass shootings in both El Paso and Dayton, Warren released a comprehensive plan on gun reform in the United States. The plan targets the NRA, police reform, and gun control measures.
Warren says she will pass anti-corruption legislation to break the NRA’s influence over politics. She also wants to eliminate the filibuster so “the nation can no longer be held hostage by a small group of well-financed extremists,” aka the NRA. She promises to sign comprehensive gun violence legislation into law within the first 100 days of her presidency and vows to revisit the legislation every year as more research comes out on its efficacy.
Warren is also willing to use executive action, saying she would use the presidential power to require background checks for all gun sales (including gun sales at gun shows), mandatory reporting on multiple purchases of guns or bulk sales of guns, and raise the minimum age of all gun sales.
She also wants to make it easier to prosecute people who traffic guns illegally, a key avenue that exacerbates gun violence in Chicago. Even though Illinois has comprehensive gun control, traffickers drive guns across state lines into Illinois. The move would have international effects on South America’s gun violence as well, because guns flow from the United States into Central and South American countries, which then fuels the migration problem, because migrants flee violence created by American guns. Warren’s plan also calls to revoke the gun licenses of gun dealers who continually break the law — she states that only one percent of gun dealers are responsible for more than half of guns used in crime.
Finally, Warren calls for investigating the NRA, closing the boyfriend loophole, which allows domestic abusers to purchase guns and increases the likelihood of death of their romantic partners, and reversing the Trump administration’s moves to weaken gun laws in our country.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Sanders echoes plenty of Biden and Warren policy with his own gun control ideas. Sanders vows to take on the NRA’s lobbying influence in Washington, expand background checks, end the gun show loophole and require background checks for gun show sales. He also wants to ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons, ban the sale of high-capacity magazines, and crack down on “straw purchases,” which is when other people buy guns for people who are not allowed to own guns.
Sanders has long been a proponent of what he refers to as ‘middle-ground legislation.’ That means that he largely believes that gun control legislation should largely be the province of individual states — Vermont is, indeed, one of the most gun friendly states in the country. But he still supports the federal ban on assault weapons and background checks and other federal laws to stop mass shootings and extreme gun violence.
Senator Kamala Harris
Harris promises if she doesn’t receive comprehensive gun control legislation on her desk by the first 100 days of her presidency, — background checks, reinstating the assault weapons ban, repealing immunity for gun manufacturers and deals — she will take executive action to deal with all of those problems one at a time. She’ll require any gun dealer who sells five or more guns a year to run a background check on all gun sales, including at gun shows.
She’d also revoke the licenses of gun dealers and makers who break the law and sue the most egregious offenders. She will also enact hefty fines on gun manufacturers and corporations who continue to break laws and use those fines to expand investment in mental health care, trauma care, and violence intervention in communities.
Harris wants to reverse a Trump action — changing the definition of what it means to be a “fugitive from justice” in such a way that it allows people on outstanding warrants to be able to purchase guns. Per her campaign site, after changing that role, sales blocked by that provision dropped 65 percent.
She also wants to close the boyfriend loophole, ban the import of AR-15 style assault weapons into the United States, make gun trafficking a federal crime, ban high capacity magazines, and disallow those who have been convicted of a federal hate crime from buying guns.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete supports red flag laws to help stem gun-related suicide. He also wants to institute universal background checks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, close to boyfriend loophole, and the “Charleston loophole,” a loophole that means when the FBI doesn’t get back to gun sellers by three days after a requested sale of a gun, the gun seller can sell the gun anyway. It’s how the Charleston shooter got his gun and killed nine people in 2015. He also wants to ban those convicted of hate crimes from owning guns, repeal the laws that protect the gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits, establish a federal gun licensing system, repeal the Dickey Amendment, which disallows the CDC from funding gun violence research, and invest in urban gun violence prevention programs. Mayor Pete has also said that he wants to target the NRA’s undue influence on American politics.
Former Representative Beto O’Rourke
O’Rourke, whose hometown is El Paso, Texas and who served as a representative for El Paso, has been hit particularly hard in the past week by the impacts of gun violence and mass shootings. Even before the shootings, however, he had a strong gun control platform.
O’Rourke, like virtually every other democratic candidate, supports gun licensing, universal background checks, closing both the Charleston and boyfriend loophole, banning assault weapons in the United States, passing red flag laws, and increasing trauma support.
Yang supports licensing and education requirements for gun ownership. He also supports banning assault weapons, enacting red flag laws, investing in mental health resources, and providing de-escalation training and mental health training to law enforcement to help limit violence between law enforcement and citizens.
Yang wants to implement a purchase limit rate on all firearms, promote a 5-year-renewal-requirement for all gun ownership licenses, and require federal background checks for anyone who owns a gun. That would mean that anyone who has a history of violence, violent crime, domestic abuse, or violent mental illness would not be able to purchase a gun. All gun purchases must be done through interviewing with a federal agent, and people who want to buy guns must pass a safety class and provide a receipt for a safe storage space for their gun (like a gun locker, which would be tax deductible.)
Yang wants to ban not just assault weapons but also ban the sale of bump stocks, suppressors, exploding ammunition and grenade launchers. Any weapon that has been modified will be confiscated and there would be an agency responsible for monitoring gun modifications. Yang would also make it a federal law that people who want to transfer guns must do it in a locked storage safe, increase legal liability to those who sell guns illegally, and create a commission to study the development of 3D printed guns.
Yang calls for creating safety guidelines for gun manufacturing like the auto industry has done for decades, with penalties for those who flout those regulations. He wants to implement a federal buyback program and invest in smart guns, guns that only use for the owner. He’d provide a tax credit to gun owners who want to upgrade their firearm to be a smart gun.
Additionally, Yang calls for way more funding into mental health programs, including the Veterans Affairs suicide prevention programs, allow the CDC to research gun violence again, and repeal the Dickey Amendment. Yang would require gun sellers to display mental health treatment information. He’d also invest in mental health programs in schools and prisons.
Senator Cory Booker
Cory Booker’s plan to reduce gun violence in the United States would include gun licensing, which requires that people can use a firearm and have trained to use one. Those who want a gun have to submit fingerprints, provide background information, complete a gun safety course, and submit themselves to a comprehensive federal background check. The gun owner needs to renew their license every five years.
Booker would also make sure that gun manufacturers are finally subject to federal oversight and can ensure that their products are safe for use and have safety warnings on them, a stipulation they have long avoided. Like many candidates, Booker wants to make it easier to prosecute gun manufacturers and dealers.
Booker supports micro-stamping, a technology that makes ammunition traceable to the gun it was fired from. This would help law enforcement figure out who is responsible for incidences of gun violence and ensure that all semi-automatic hand guns have micro-stamping technology going forward.
Like most other candidates, Booker wants to close the boyfriend loophole, the Charleston Loophole, ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines as well as bump stocks, and allow the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.
Per Booker’s statement on gun violence, the ATF also needs to be funded appropriately and have their hands untied so that they can investigate gun dealers. Booker supports red flag laws and limiting gun buyers to purchasing one handgun per month, and support legislation that would require gun owners to report when a firearm is lost or stolen. Evidence suggests that lost and stolen firearms make up a significant portion of illegal gun trafficking.
Booker also will work to prevent firearm suicide. Booker supports de-escalation training for law enforcement and trauma support for communities impacted by gun violence, as well as investigating the NRA’s oversized influence on the government.
Representative Tusli Gabbard
Gabbard, who recently surged in the polls following the second Democratic debate, also wants to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. She’d also require comprehensive background checks, closing the gun-show loophole, the boyfriend loophole, and ensure that “terrorists are not allowed to buy guns.”