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Where 2020 Democrats agree on gun violence policies — and where they don’t

Many of the 2020 Democratic candidates spent Wednesday at a forum devoted to curbing gun violence, explaining how they would address the problem. Former Vice President Joe Biden chose the event to release his plan. Amna Nawaz learns more from John Yang, who was at the forum in Las Vegas, about where candidates agree, and how they are trying to distinguish themselves.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After the most recent back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Democrats, including the party's presidential candidates, renewed their calls for changes to gun laws.

    Amna Nawaz has more on where the candidates stand.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Many of the 2020 candidates spent the day at a forum in Las Vegas, explaining how they would curb gun violence.

    As South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg took the stage, he made clear all the Democratic candidates have a united goal.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    I'm guessing that pretty much everybody in the parade of candidates you're about to see is going to call for universal background checks, closing the hate loophole, the Charleston loophole, the boyfriend loophole, disarming domestic abusers, enacting red flag laws, extreme risk protection orders, banning the sale of assault weapons like what I carried in Afghanistan.

    We know what we have to do.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Our John Yang was at the forum today, and he joins me now.

    John, good to talk to you.

    We heard from Mayor Buttigieg right there. And another candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, released his own plan to curb gun violence in the country today.

    What was notable about that plan?

  • John Yang:

    Well, Amna, one thing notable, that was the last of the major candidates to release his gun violence plan.

    And he chose this forum co-sponsored by Gabby Giffords' Gun Violence Foundation and the March For Our Lives group, the student group founded after the Parkland High School shooting, and this shooting, one day after the second anniversary of the Harvest Music Festival shooting here in Las Vegas that claimed 58 lives.

    Fitting his role as sort of the moderate candidate, Joe Biden's plan had some moderate points in it. There are three main points. He wants to expand background checks, but, importantly, he wants to exclude sales between close family members. That's an exclusion very important to a lot of gun owners.

    He also wants to restore the assault weapon ban, the ban on manufacturing new assault weapons. And for existing assault weapons, he has a middle ground, not a mandatory buyback, a voluntary buyback. Owners of assault weapons would have to choose, under his plan, whether to sell their weapon back to the government or undergo a background check and register in order to keep their assault weapon.

    So, a middle ground on that — on that issue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, John, a lot of those things, we heard Mayor Buttigieg list there at the top.

    When we look broadly at a lot of the candidates' plans, as they have been put forward, you see some common elements. There's a lot of common ground among the candidates.

    Where are the areas of disagreement among those Democratic presidential candidates right now?

  • John Yang:

    Well, that's certainly true. That is sort of the mainstream agreement among the candidates.

    But one candidate in particular today, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, tried to distinguish himself from the other candidates. Here he is talking about a national registry for gun owners.

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Here's my message to Democrats. The public is already there. Well over 75 percent of Americans support gun licensing. This isn't about leadership. Leadership is bringing people along with you. The public is already there.

    You shouldn't be a nominee for — from our party that can seriously stand in front of urban places and say, I will protect you, if you don't believe in gun licensing. This isn't about leadership. This is about you standing with the overwhelming majority of Americans on gun licensing.

  • John Yang:

    Another candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, said the differences in the details of the individual plans aren't that important.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

    This is not going to be a one-and-done to fix this problem. It's not going to be a, we will get two statutes passed and three regulations changed, problem fixed, because it won't be fixed.

  • John Yang:

    And in so many of the differences between the candidates on so many issues, it comes down to a breakdown between progressives and moderates.

    But on gun buybacks, here's what our latest "NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll found. It showed, among Democrats, there's broad support; 70 percent support a mandatory buyback for assault weapons. And look at this. It's no difference between progressives and moderates, statistical tie. Both about 70 percent support that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, John, you see those numbers as the candidates are saying the support is there among a lot of their potential voters for some of these reforms.

    As you mentioned, you're standing there on the site of the deadliest modern shooting in U.S. history. I'm curious, though. A lot of the activists who are there, who are at the forum, for whom this might very well be a voting issue, how have they changed the conversation? And what are you hearing from them about these plans?

  • John Yang:

    Yes, producer Meredith Lee talked to a lot of the people here, the activists who are here.

    And we want to play some of that tape for you.

    First, we're going to hear from Victor Pacheco, a 24-year-old from south Central Los Angeles.

  • Victor Pacheco:

    So, I really like the plans of folks like Senator Sanders or Warren. I really appreciate they're focusing on lower-income communities, communities that aren't only experiencing mass gun shootings, but are also experiencing daily gun violence throughout the community and that are historically not focused on when it comes to these issues.

  • Delaney Tarr:

    I want us to talk about the intersection of gun violence. I think that is a very important thing, the intersection of gun violence with mental health, with police brutality, with criminal justice.

    It's a very widespread and multifaceted issue, so to really address every single side of gun violence in a way that is not just mass shootings, that isn't just the kids from Parkland, but is the churches and the concerts and the streets and the cities.

  • John Yang:

    That was Delaney Tarr. She's 19 years old. She's from Parkland, Florida, one of the co-founders of March For Our Lives.

    They have some differences, but coming together and agreeing on a lot of the broad strokes of gun control. But one thing in common we heard about, not only among the candidates, but among the activists here, they feel, in order to get meaningful gun control laws, they have got to defeat Donald Trump for the White House next November, and they have got to defeat the Republicans who control the Senate.

    There was also a lot of talk here about the National Rifle Association, about how corporate America controls politics, and saying that the NRA now no longer represents gun owners, but has become a lobby for gun makers — Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is John Yang in Las Vegas for us on an issue that's sure to be front and center in the 2020 election.

    Thanks, John.

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