Democratic presidential contenders made their case to gun control advocates at the 2020 Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas on Wednesday at a time when a slew of mass shootings have raised pressure on Congress to take action.
Nine candidates fielded questions from gun control advocates, touching on areas like mass shootings, suicide, mental health as well as urban and domestic violence.
The presidential forum, which was hosted by March for Our Lives, Giffords Courage and MSNBC, was the first of its kind solely devoted to addressing gun violence.
The event was attended by former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), and businessman Andrew Yang.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dropped out of the event after he underwent a procedure to have two stents inserted to address an arterial blockage.
The candidates emphasized the need for quick action on gun violence, and discussed how they would implement gun control measures if elected president.
Biden touted the success of the Obama administration in passing the Affordable Care Act as a blueprint to pass gun control legislation, saying both measures are based on movements.
“Everyone told us that we couldn’t get ObamaCare passed, but things had changed,” Biden said. “We got it passed because it became a movement.”
“There is an awakening in the public about how dangerous it has become,” he continued.
The candidates also took opportunities to criticize their opponents’ stances on the issue.
Booker called out O’Rourke at the forum for supporting gun licensing after a mass shooting took place in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, in August.
Booker said O’Rourke “criticized me when I came out for” licensing, but noted that the O’Rourke now supports the measure.
“Are we going to have to wait until hell’s lottery comes to your community? No, we are a better country,” Booker said.
Meanwhile, O’Rourke called out Buttigieg for not fully supporting mandatory gun buybacks.
“I heard some of the comments made today on this stage, those who are worried about the polls and want to triangulate, I’m thinking about Mayor Pete on this one, who I think maybe wants to get to the right place but is afraid [right now],” O’Rourke said. “For those who need a weatherman, mandatory buybacks are supported by the majority of Americans.”
“I very strongly disagree with them,” O’Rourke said in response to Democrats that argued his comments would make it more difficult to pass gun reform.
“So to Chuck Schumer, and Chris Coons and Mayor Pete and others, not only is it the right thing to do, not only will we save the lives of fellow Americans…the American people are with us,” he said, referring to the Senate Minority Leader and the senator from Delaware. “It’s time to lead.”
Harris also confirmed that she supports mandatory gun buybacks.
Other candidates touched upon their personal ties to gun violence.
Castro opened up about his personal experience with gun violence in high school.
“I remember ducking behind the back seat of a car, because people were shooting at each — in the 9th grade,” Castro said. “We must educate people, not only about these horrific mass shootings but the gun violence that goes on day to day.”
Booker, who has spoken frequently about gun violence in his own New Jersey community, said his experience dealing with the issue would help him address the issue in the White House.
“There is nobody that will go to the White House with more of a sense of urgency to end the scourge of gun violence than me,” Booker said.
Over 315 mass shootings have taken place in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Those shootings have resulted in the deaths of at least 346 people, and have left 1,200 people injured.
However, lawmakers and President Trump have yet to make progress on the issue. ]
While House Democrats passed a background check expansion bill in February, no action has taken place in the Senate as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ky.) waits for President Trump to weigh in.