Every 2020 Candidate's Gun Control Stance, In One Big List
The mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 12 victims dead at the beginning of June began another wave of tweets and statements from politicians denouncing the status quo and calling for stricter gun laws. But, like after most such shootings, the laws in the country have not moved an inch. Most of the people running for president promise they would change that, and many have their own plan to combat gun violence in America. Here's where every 2020 candidate stands on gun control.
The status quo — at least for the Democrats — may be two bills that the House passed in February. Neither have much chance of being picked up by the Republican-controlled Senate or being signed by President Trump. But it does show where the Democratic party largely is on gun policy.
The first bill, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which was supported by a handful of Republicans, too, would expand background checks to every sale in the United States — even those sold privately online or at gun shows. Another bill passed by the House in quick succession would extend the waiting period for federal background checks when buying a gun to 10 days.
The policies proposed by the candidates for the Democratic nomination largely fall in line and build off these policies. Some even go much further, suggesting innovative ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands and to prevent further mass shootings and gun violence in the country. Here's what every 2020 candidate has to say.
Sen. Michael Bennet
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado doesn't yet have a dedicated section for gun control on his website, but he does mention it in his "vision" under "Restore American Values." The website reads, that he will "enact common-sense steps to end gun violence." This year he has also tweeted about gun control, noting the need to pass "common sense" reforms including universal background checks.
His time in the Senate gives some insights into his positions on gun control. ABC News reported that he has a "mixed record," citing his support for checking guns in Amtrak bags and OntheIssues.org reported he received a C+ rating from the NRA in 2010.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden doesn't have a set plan on his website, but he argues on social media and in his campaign speeches that he has a strong history of taking on the NRA. Legislatively, he has long been in favor of gun control.
"I know how to beat the NRA because I’ve done it before - twice," Biden tweeted on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. "I shepherded through the passage of the Brady background check bill in 1993, and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in 1994. As president, I will defeat the NRA again."
Sen. Cory Booker
Of all the candidates in the race, Sen. Cory Booker has arguably the most developed plan to tackle gun violence. The key difference that sets Booker's plan apart is that he would not just require background checks but gun permits as well.
"Here’s how it would work: Individuals could seek a gun license at a designated local office, widely available in urban and rural areas, similar to applying for or renewing a passport," Booker wrote about his plan on Medium. "They would submit fingerprints, provide basic background information, and demonstrate completion of a certified gun safety course." The permits would be good for five years and would be renewable.
Booker also has proposals to keep gun manufacturers accountable for their products in terms of regulations and also would allow them to be found liable in civil suits when guns are used misused or trafficked, causing "public safety implications."
Gov. Steve Bullock
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has written about gun violence in an intensely personal way. His nephew was shot to death in a Montana schoolyard by another student when he was just 11. In a May 2018 USA Today op-ed, he shared that experience and wrote about the kind of gun control he supports, including background checks, age restrictions, red flag laws that allow for guns to be taken away from someone temporarily when family or police request it, and a ban on bump stocks.
Bullock himself owns a gun, he said. "Americans calling for protection of the Second Amendment want their families to be safe," Bullock wrote in the op-ed. "I know because I’m a gun owner who believes in the Constitution, yet also recognizes its limits."
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg lists gun laws as an issue on his campaign page. He outlines a number of policies that he would like to achieve, including universal background checks, red flag laws, waiting periods for gun purchases, a ban on "military-style" assault weapons, and a nationwide gun licensing system similar to the one that Booker proposed.
His issues page also stresses lowering the rate of gun deaths by suicide, says he will get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and will support policies to "hold the gun industry accountable."
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro does not have a section on his website dedicated to gun policies, but he has been calling for more sensible gun laws since 2012, following the Newtown shooting. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Castro addressed the Second Amendment, stating, "like every other freedom, there are reasonable limits, regulations to be placed on it."
In the interview, he stressed universal background checks and gun access rules regarding people who have mental health challenges. On Twitter in June, he also advocated for an assault weapons ban.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn't have a full campaign website yet, let alone a section on gun control. As mayor, though, de Blasio started the Office to Prevent Gun Violence to reduce gun crimes and deaths in the city in 2017.
"We, every single day, are working to make this the safest big city in America," de Blasio told The New York Times in January. "We need the laws that we have that protect against guns being on our streets and we will fight to protect ourselves, that’s the bottom line."
Former Rep. John Delaney
Rep. John Delaney of Maryland has a whole section on his website about "gun safety." He lays out several areas that he would work on, including universal background checks, a ban on "high-powered, military-style assault weapons," a ban on high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, and passing extreme risk or red flag laws. He also says he would close the "boyfriend loophole" for domestic violence abusers, essentially stopping abusers who aren't married to their partners from purchasing firearms, and push for gun violence research.
In March at a presidential candidate forum with WBUR, Delany spoke about his plan for gun control if he's elected and praised red flag laws based on the experience in Maryland. "The family can go to the court and actually have the court intervene around that situation and take the firearm away," Delaney told WBUR. "In my home state of Maryland, it’s been incredibly successful ... It’s a good example of a smart policy."
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard consistently scores low on NRA ratings and high with the Brady Campaign, an organization that advocates for gun control. Her website doesn't have an issues list, but there are policy positions on her old website from her last congressional run.
"She has long called for reinstating a federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, requiring comprehensive pre-purchase background checks, closing the gun-show loophole, and making sure that terrorists are not allowed to buy guns," her congressional campaign page reads. It also lists the many bills that she co-sponsored on gun control over the years.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Gillibrand, like almost all of the Democrats running, has an "F" from the NRA and stellar ratings from the Brady Campaign. Gillibrand does mention the issue on her presidential campaign site, noting her NRA rating and different policies she has supported, including universal background checks.
She spoke out on the issue in November on The Late Show. "Well, it is extraordinarily heartbreaking and it's infuriating because Congress literally has done nothing in the face of gun death after gun death in communities all across this country," Gillibrand told the host, Stephen Colbert. "And it is because of the greed: the greed of the gun manufacturers and the greed of the NRA."
Gillibrand, though, was not always such a strong advocate gun control. When she served as a representative in the U.S. House for upstate New York, she maintained a more conservative view on guns. At the time, she had an "A" rating from the NRA. She has since spoken out about her change of heart.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel
Former Sen. Mike Gravel for Alaska has not tweeted about guns once, or any related post about violence. Nor does he have a section on his website about gun control. He has, though, made a very strong statement against selling arms to other countries.
OnTheIssues.org reported that he made a variety of statements in 2007 and 2008. He previously supported a license and training requirement for gun ownership and has spoken about supporting the Second Amendment.
Sen. Kamala Harris
Harris has lousy grades from the NRA like the other candidates. She has a dedicated section about gun violence on the issues page of her presidential campaign site where Harris puts forward a dramatic plan that she would make happen on her own if Congress doesn't act in her first 100 days in office (though she hopes they will).
In the section, Harris says she would use executive orders to mandate federal background checks, revoke licenses of some gun manufacturers, and make it harder for domestic abusers to buy guns. It also outlines her record as district attorney and attorney general in California, where it says she called to renew a federal assault weapons ban and "defended California’s gun violence prevention laws."
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado doesn't have an issues page on his website, but the site does mention gun control in his "about the candidate" section. "He stood up to the NRA to pass landmark gun safety legislation, including limits on high capacity magazines and universal background checks," the page reads, referencing his time leading Colorado.
In May, Hickenlooper announced a gun control plan to the media that included universal background checks, national gun licenses, raising the minimum age to own a gun to 21, and an assault weapons ban. He also proposed improving mental health services for children in the hopes of preventing future violence. He also has an "F" rating from the NRA.
Gov. Jay Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington doesn't have a gun control section on his website — the focus is largely climate change — but he does have a history of supporting the gun control since 1994, even paying a political price for his votes. He lost his congressional seat in 1994 following his support of an assault weapons ban, according to CNBC.
In Washington state, he has pushed for citizen's initiatives that restrict guns in the form of a red flag law and raising the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles in recent years. In 2019 alone, he has signed into law a number of measures, according to the AP.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota does have a section on guns on her website. The site reads that preventing gun violence is "long overdue." Among the policies that she calls for are universal background checks and banning high capacity magazines, bump stocks, and assault weapons.
She's also worked to ensure that a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act would close what is usually referred to as the "boyfriend loophole," which allows domestic violence abusers who aren't married to their partners to continue to purchase firearms.
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas doesn't list gun control on his website, but he has tweeted about gun control — even before his run for president, back when he was trying to win the Texas U.S. Senate seat.
His plan when running for the Senate included universal background checks, supporting federal research on gun violence, which is currently banned, and a ban on "weapons of war."
Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam
Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam has a large section on gun reform on his website — though the policy details are at times scarce. He talks about his fears as a parent and a citizen every time there is a shooting, mentioning the Parkland shooting in particular as it is just "minutes down the road."
"As a result of Washington’s refusal to address gun violence, young people across the country have grown up traumatized by the gun violence epidemic," Messam writes.
On his web page, Messam adds that he supports law enforcement taking guns from domestic abusers, people with mental illness, and those on the terrorist watch list. Messam also says he has a goal of cutting gun deaths in half during his first term.
On the local level, Messam has made an amphitheater gun-free and has sued to be able to institute more gun control, according to Axios.
Rep. Seth Moulton
Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts does not have a section on gun control on his campaign website, but he has spoken about the issue while in elected office. On his congressional website, he has written that he supports universal background checks, a ban on "weapons of war," and allowing for federally funded research into gun violence.
He's also written op-eds on gun control, speaking about his time serving in the military and using weapons of war on the battlefield as context. "So believe me when I tell you: There's simply no reason for a civilian to own a military-style assault weapon. It's no different than why we outlaw civilian ownership of rockets and landmines," he wrote in The New York Daily News.
Rep. Tim Ryan
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio does not have a section on gun control on his campaign website. He was once a member of the NRA but he says he left the organization over its inability to address gun violence, The Huffington Post reports.
"I support background checks, I support researching this, I support closing the Charleston loophole, I support keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists or people who are on the terrorist watch list," Ryan said in Iowa in March. "So all of the comprehensive firearm reforms that are out there, I strongly support."
His voting record in the early 2000s, though, matches his NRA rating of "A" at the time. He has voted in the past to prevent lawsuits against gun manufacturers and to prevent research on gun violence, according to OnTheIssues.org.
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont does have a section on his site about gun safety. On the page, Sanders advocates for "expanded" background checks, an assault weapons ban, prohibiting high-capacity ammo, and targeting people who buy guns for criminals.
"When we are in the White House, we will move aggressively to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country and pass the common sense gun safety legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans want," the page reads.
But Sanders has not always had these positions, according to NBC News. Earlier in his career, including as a U.S. representative, he voted for a number of pro-gun laws including the law that prevents gun manufacturers from being held financially responsible. He also opposed federal research into gun violence and a national system for background checks.
Rep. Eric Swalwell
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has a large part of his campaign website dedicated to ending gun violence. He has an eight-part plan that lays out the policies he would take if he were to become president, including a national gun buyback program, universal background checks, a federal licensing program, an insurance requirement for gun owners and more. He supports a ban on bump stocks, assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and more.
He would also regulate gun manufacturers, invest in research into gun violence, expand protections for survivors of domestic violence, and expand programs to prevent suicide.
"There's nothing that we propose here today that is at odds with what [the NRA] claims they stand for," Swalwell said at a news conference announcing his plan, according to CBS News. "I think the greatest threat to the Second Amendment is doing nothing."
President Donald Trump
In 2016, President Trump ran on reversing some gun control policies that President Obama had put in place by executive order, including the policy that used Social Security Administration data to stop people who could not care for themselves from buying a gun. Trump signed a bill that reversed that.
Since moving into the White House, Trump has proposed a number of gun policies, many of which would loosen restrictions on buying and carrying guns — or even encourage arming more Americans. He's against gun-free zones and has proposed arming teachers, for example.
He has expressed openness toward some gun control, though. In late 2018, his administration officially banned bump stocks. He has also spoken about raising the minimum age to buy assault rifles and making the country's background checks system better. None of these ideas came with detailed policy, plans though.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Like almost all of her colleagues, Warren has a meager rating from the NRA. Guns don't make her issues list on her campaign website, though, even though she has spoken out on gun control in the past and said that she would declare gun violence a national emergency were she to be elected in a conversation with The Late Late Show's James Corden in February.
She has voted several times to ban high-capacity magazines and supported an extension to the assault weapons ban. In 2017, after the Las Vegas strip shooting, Warren called for "sensible" changes, including strengthened background checks.
Former Gov. Bill Weld
Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld has not tweeted the word "gun" once and has only used the word "violence" a few times. As a Republican challenging Trump, he has a different position from many of the other contenders on the list. Several candidate profiles on Weld do not mention gun control either.
According to OnTheIssues.org, Weld opposed gun control when he ran as a libertarian for vice president in 2016. That was a shift from his time serving as Massachusetts governor in the 1990s; at that time, he supported gun control, according to the Conservative Review.
Marianne Williamson, an author and spiritual leader, has a long section on her website about gun reform. The website reads that the argument over gun control is "less about the Second Amendment and more about profit maximization for gun manufacturers." She points to the wording "well-regulated" in the Second Amendment and proposes a number of policies.
Williamson's page says she would ban assault rifles, bump stocks and high capacity magazines, implement universal waiting periods and background checks, pass red flag laws, and put limits on people with mental illness' ability to purchase weapons. She also suggests a gun license would require more training.
"More than anything else, I feel that as president, I could make a moral argument for the cultivation of greater respect for life, in our lives," Williamson's page concludes. "The cultivation of love and respect for others is perhaps the most powerful gun safety measure, and I would pursue it with all my heart."
Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur, also lays out a gun reform plan on his page that compares getting a gun to driving a car. He proposes that there be several tiers of licenses for different types of guns, from "basic" rifles and handguns to "advanced and automatic weaponry." The requirements would slide up to, everything from age (up to 21) to the need to provide DNA to the FBI. He also supports banning bump stocks and creating federal safety guidelines.
"Most Americans agree on common-sense safety requirements and restrictions on firearms," Yang's page reads. "As President, I will support sensible regulation of guns that allows their continued enjoyment by responsible gun owners in a framework that promotes the overall public safety."
There are plenty of variations among the candidates on gun control policies, but the biggest difference is between Republicans and Democrats. In the bills that passed in February, a few Republicans supported the universal background check bill, but none were in favor of lengthening the waiting period, for example.
That difference won't become the media's focus until closer to the general election, though, as Democrats are likely to try and position themselves on their gun control policies in the debates and on the campaign trail. The winning policies for the primaries will likely go far beyond what has currently passed either house in Congress.
As voters consider who they'd like to support — especially for those who prioritize gun control — these policy proposals allow for an informed decision.