Sixteen Democrats running for president took questions about gun policies at a forum in Des Moines Saturday that was organized a few days earlier in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
Hundreds of gun control activists from across the country attended the forum. Gunshot survivors and family members of victims told their stories to candidates and asked them how they would reduce gun violence.
The candidates generally agree on pursuing universal background checks, bans on “assault weapons,” restrictions on high capacity magazines and “red flag” laws. Some even want to require licenses for gun purchases.
But many called out the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a major obstacle to passing these laws.
“Until we disrupt the way they give money to folks in Congress, the way they put the lobbyists in the field, we’re going to fight this fight, and we’re going to keep losing this fight,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “So for me, real change, meaningful change, starts with breaking up the corruption in Washington, breaking the stranglehold of the gun industry and the NRA.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the majority of Americans support certain gun policies, like expanding background checks.
“This raises fundamental questions about our democracy,” Buttigieg said. “Because if most Americans insist that something be done, and it still doesn’t happen, it means we need fundamental reform.”
He said gun control activists are helping to counteract the power of the gun industry.
Several candidates brought up changes to campaign finance laws as a way to lessen the influence of the NRA.
Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan was among them.
“I think it starts with campaign finance reform to get the money out of politics,” Ryan said. “And I support publicly financing elections so we can eliminate all of this.”
But Michael Bloomberg, founder of Everytown For Gun Safety and former New York City mayor, said he will back “the most massive effort on gun safety that our country has ever seen” in 2020 to elect a president who supports policies aimed at reducing gun violence.
“And if that means I have to buy a red T-shirt for every mom in America who wants to join our cause, and one for every dad, and aunt and uncle who wants to join, just send me the bill,” Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg also said he sees “historic unity” in the Democratic Party on gun issues, but he said the NRA and Republican officials influenced by the NRA stand in the way of progress.
“Elections matter,” said California Sen. Kamala Harris. “People have got to be held accountable and if they don’t have the courage to vote in the best interest of their communities, they need to be voted out of office.”
Harris said President Trump could call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up gun-related legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House, but she said Trump’s statements following recent mass shootings have been “empty gestures.”
Six additional Democrats running for president joined the forum via video message.