Democrats in Iowa Offer Plans to Combat Gun Violence

DES MOINES — One by one, Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday emphasized the urgent need to confront gun violence in America, speaking largely in harmony on an issue that has been thrust to the forefront after last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

At a forum in Des Moines, the candidates voiced support for a common set of gun control proposals, like requiring universal background checks and banning assault weapons. And they repeatedly cited the same obstacles in their path: President Trump, the National Rifle Association and Republicans in Congress.

“We’ve got a guy in the White House that’s afraid,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “He’s afraid of the N.R.A.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York urged gun control activists to press Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader. She suggested that they tweet at him, “Mitch, call the vote! Mitch, call the vote!”

And before she appeared at the forum, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts laid out a series of proposals to address gun violence, with an ambitious goal for her presidency: reducing gun deaths by 80 percent.

More than a dozen candidates were scheduled to appear at the forum, which was sponsored by Everytown for Gun Safety and two of its branches, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., whose candidacy is rooted in generational change, cited the power of young people pushing for action on gun safety. He said he was motivated to run for president to counter the notion that the United States had “accepted the unacceptable” throughout his lifetime — including on gun violence.

“Shame on us, God help us, if 20 years from now there’s a candidate forum with presidential candidates in the aftermath of mass shootings and a day-to-day beat of daily shootings, saying, ‘O.K., what are we going to do to make sure it’s different this time?’” he said. “Let’s not let that happen.”

The mere presence of so many Democratic candidates was evidence of how the party’s candidates are not shying away from talking about gun control in the 2020 race. “Gun safety is no longer the third rail of American politics,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

There were nearly 40,000 gun deaths in the United States in 2017, 60 percent of which were suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“My goal as president, and our goal as a society, will be to reduce that number by 80 percent,” Ms. Warren said in a Medium post laying out her gun violence plan. “We might not know how to get all the way there yet. But we’ll start by implementing solutions that we believe will work. We’ll continue by constantly revisiting and updating those solutions based on new public health research.”

Under her plan, Ms. Warren would make major changes to how Americans buy guns. Her plan includes creating a federal licensing system, akin to getting a driver’s license, for people buying guns or ammunition.

She is also calling for new restrictions on gun purchases: The minimum age would be 21, people would be limited to one firearm purchase per month and there would be a one-week waiting period for all purchases.

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Ms. Warren’s plan also calls for increasing taxes on gun manufacturers, as well as spending $100 million annually on research into gun violence.

Ms. Warren’s presidential bid has been powered in large part by her steady stream of policy proposals, and gun safety was among the highest-profile issues that she had not yet addressed in detail. Before rolling out her new plan, she called on Friday for Walmart to stop selling guns.

Ms. Warren’s plan endorses several proposals that are broadly popular among the Democratic candidates, like requiring universal background checks; banning assault weapons; enacting a so-called red flag law that allows guns to be removed from people deemed dangerous; and repealing a law that shields gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits.

The possibility of passing a red flag law has received considerable attention after last weekend’s shootings, and Mr. Trump on Friday said there was “tremendous support” for what he described as “really common-sense, sensible, important background checks.” But his track record on guns leaves major question marks about his commitment to that position.

Ms. Warren laid out actions she would take on guns using executive power, such as expanding background checks to cover more gun purchases. But much of her agenda on the issue would require passing legislation in Congress.

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To do that, Ms. Warren reiterated her call to get rid of the Senate filibuster — a step that would clear the way for a narrow Democratic majority to pass new gun laws without needing to reach 60 votes.

“Enough is enough,” Ms. Warren said. “Lasting gun reform requires the elimination of the filibuster.”

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