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[Daniel Nass]

Election 2020

Where the 2020 Democratic Candidates Stand on Guns

We polled every campaign on an array of gun policies. Here’s what they said.

Gun reform has received little attention in past presidential races, but it’s a key issue among Democrats vying for the White House in 2020. Several candidates have released briefs detailing how they’d handle gun policy from the Oval Office, and a couple — namely Cory Booker and Eric Swalwell — have made conquering gun violence a centerpiece of their campaigns.

To bring some clarity to the discussion, The Trace surveyed the 21 candidates who have qualified for the Democratic debates on a range of gun policies. We picked issues ranging from the mainstream (universal background checks) to the wonky (the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s authority over firearms). We also asked each candidate whether or not they own a gun.

In order to do an apples-to-apples comparison among the candidates, we asked yes-or-no questions and did our best to slot every response into one of those categories. If a candidate’s answer was ambiguous, we labeled it with a question mark, and we noted any candidates for whom no specific position could be discerned. We also provided space for the contenders to explain their positions in their own words.

In an earlier era, we would have scrutinized these candidates’ relationships with the National Rifle Association, but “NRA-friendly Democrat” is now an oxymoron. Every candidate on this list who’s been graded by the NRA received an “F” in the most recent evaluation (except for Steve Bullock, who has a “C”).

So far, ten candidates’ campaigns have submitted responses to The Trace’s questionnaire. For those who haven’t, we’ve drawn on a candidate’s public statements, campaign website, and/or legislative record to fill in the blanks. We’ll update this page throughout the primary season, whenever a new campaign responds to our questionnaire or a candidate takes a public position on any of the issues we’re tracking. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a list of all the updates we’ve made since publication. If you spot something that we missed, please let us know.

1 of 12

🔗 Do you own a gun?

In 2012, Donald Trump told The Washington Times that he owns two guns: a .45-caliber Heckler & Koch, and a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson. Among the Democrats who may take him on in 2020, at least nine say they own firearms.

Answer Comments
“Michael owns a hunting shotgun.” – Told to The Trace
“Well, you know, my shotgun will do better for you than your AR-15, because you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door.” Field and Stream
Booker doesn’t own a gun, according to a Post survey. The Washington Post
“Pete Buttigieg … owns two antique guns that he doesn’t use.” The Washington Post
“Former congressman John Delaney (Md.) also owns a firearm.” The Washington Post
Gabbard doesn’t own a gun, according to a Post survey. The Washington Post
Klobuchar doesn’t own a gun, according to a Post survey. The Washington Post
Told to The Trace
“I own shotguns that I have inherited or were gifted to me.” – Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
Yang doesn’t own a gun, according to a Post survey. The Washington Post
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🔗 Do you support a new federal ban on assault-style weapons?

Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were banned at the federal level from 1994 to 2004, when the law expired. Research shows that during the ban, shootings that killed six or more people occurred at a lower rate than in the decades before or after. Experts rank assault weapons bans as one of the most effective measures for reducing mass shootings, though recent polls indicate that public support is mixed.

Answer Comments
“Michael supports a well-crafted assault weapons ban that would successfully get weapons of war off the streets.” – Told to The Trace
“He’ll begin by again championing legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – bans he authored in 1994.” Campaign website
Booker’s gun violence plan says that he will “ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks.” Medium
“Ban military-style assault weapons.” Campaign website
“Delaney cosponsored the Assault Weapons Ban Act, which would ban semiautomatic weapons that have military-style features, including the AR-15. This legislation also includes a ban on high-capacity magazines.” Campaign website
“She has long called for reinstating a federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines.” Campaign website
“Amy supports a package of gun violence policies including … banning bump stocks, high capacity ammunition feeding devices and assault weapons.” Campaign website
“Bernie believes assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have no place on our streets and must be banned.” – Told to The Trace
“Ban high risk weapons including assault weapons.” Campaign website
“We need to put in place real laws to protect our loved ones, starting with a federal ban on assault weapons.” – Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
“Create a clear definition of ‘assault weapon’, and prevent their manufacture and sale.” Campaign website
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🔗 Do you support a buyback program for existing assault-style weapons?

Under an assault weapons buyback program, which was not a provision of the previous assault weapons ban, the federal government would compensate gun owners for their newly illegal weapons. Candidates have proposed both mandatory and voluntary buybacks.

Answer Comments
“Pushing for mandatory buybacks would be a recipe for getting nothing done.” The Washington Examiner
“I would institute a national buyback program.” CNN
“I would like to see a buyback program and a mandatory turnover.” Vox
“[Buttigieg] supports … a voluntary buyback program for existing assault-style weapons.” Politico
“I’m not against the buyback program.” CNBC
“I would look at a voluntary buyback.” CNN
“We have got to implement a buyback program to get these weapons off the streets.” Medium
“A mandatory buyback is essentially confiscation, which I think is unconstitutional.” The Washington Free Beacon
“Voluntary buyback programs of all firearms.” Campaign website
“I’ve also supported legislation that would allow for the use of federal funds to support a voluntary buyback program for these weapons of war.” – Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
Yang’s gun safety platform calls for a buyback program for “anyone who wants to voluntarily give up their firearm.” Campaign website

No information found

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🔗 Should background checks be required for all firearm sales, including sales between private owners?

Currently, federal law exempts private sales from mandatory background checks — it’s a provision widely referred to as the “gun show loophole,” though it applies to all transactions with unlicensed sellers. An estimated 22 percent of gun sales took place without background checks in 2015, and private sales are a common route for prohibited purchasers to acquire guns. Universal background checks have overwhelming public support, though research on their efficacy is mixed.

Answer Comments
Told to The Trace
“Biden will enact universal background check legislation and close other loopholes that allow people who should be prohibited from purchasing firearms from making those purchases.” Campaign website
Booker’s gun violence plan says that he will “ensure a background check on every gun sale by closing the loophole on guns show and online sales and the so-called ‘Charleston Loophole.'” Medium
“He understands that solving the gun violence epidemic requires a comprehensive approach, and that begins with universal background checks as the foundation for reducing gun violence.” Campaign website
“Delaney supports requiring background checks for every gun sale.” Campaign website
“She has long called for … requiring comprehensive pre-purchase background checks, closing the gun-show loophole.” Campaign website
“Amy supports a package of gun violence policies including instituting universal background checks by closing the gun show loophole.” Campaign website
“Bernie is a proud cosponsor of the Background Checks Expansion Act which would require a background check for any sale or transfer of a gun.” – Told to The Trace
“Pass universal background checks by expanding them to private sales and unlicensed sellers.” Campaign website
“We need universal background checks. I am a cosponsor of a bill that would expand federal background checks to all gun sales, including for private sellers.” – Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
Yang’s platform calls for a licensing system in which all applicants must “pass a federal background check, eliminating the gun show loophole.” Campaign website
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🔗 Do you believe the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller should be overturned?

This 2008 Supreme Court decision established that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to own a firearm for self-defense, rather than applying specifically to militias. In the decade since, the ruling has had a limited impact on existing gun control laws. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented on the ruling, told The New York Times, “I thought Heller was a very bad decision.”

Answer Comments
“As president, Michael would support the efforts of states and the District of Columbia to enact common sense gun safety legislation. He would also fight for federal legislation to do the same.” – Told to The Trace
“If I were on the Court I wouldn’t make the same ruling.” WMUR
Told to The Trace
“Heller established the precedent that ‘like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.’ And as president, I will only appoint judges who agree with that and allow for common-sense laws that will keep guns away from dangerous people.” – Told to The Trace
“In 2004, Bernie voted against a bill that would repeal the District of Columbia’s laws that prohibit the sale and possession of handguns, handgun ammunition and semiautomatic weapons not banned by federal law. In 1999, Sanders voted against two amendments to weaken the District of Columbia’s gun laws.” – Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
Warren responded to The Trace’s questionnaire but did not answer this question.
Told to The Trace
“Responsible gun owners should continue to enjoy the right to bear arms.” Campaign website

No information found

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🔗 The majority of gun violence occurs in cities and disproportionately affects people of color. Do you have a plan for reducing community gun violence?

Mass shootings dominate the headlines, but make up only a small fraction of gun violence — most shootings attract little media attention. More than half of homicide victims in 2017 were black, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and guns were used in the vast majority of those killings. While on-the-ground violence prevention strategies have been shown to reduce crime, these programs often struggle to survive on limited state and local funding.

Answer Comments
“Michael believes gun violence is a national epidemic that continues to plague communities across the country. He has announced four common-sense priorities that he believes will reduce gun violence and keep guns out of the wrong hands: expanding and improving universal background checks, banning bumpstocks, limiting the size of magazines, and keeping weapons of war off the streets. He strongly supports H.R. 8 and believes we should put pressure on Republicans in the Senate to pass the bill.” – Told to The Trace
“Biden will create a $900 million, eight-year initiative to fund… evidence-based interventions in 40 cities across the country.” Campaign website
“Cory will direct new federal funding to support evidence-based programs similar to those he supported as mayor of Newark… Additionally, Cory will provide grant funding to local law enforcement to combat gun violence to adopt new technology, including acoustic gunshot detection systems.” Medium
Buttigieg belongs to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, whose members pledge to “invest in victim services and neighborhood-level violence intervention programs.” Mayors Against Illegal Guns
Gabbard co-sponsored a bill that would establish a House Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. Congress.gov
“Bernie understands that inequality and gun violence are connected… We will build upon evidence-based programs and practices where gun violence prevention has been successful… You cannot have a conversation about gun violence disproportionately impacting communities of color without talking about gun violence at the hands of the police… Bernie believes we must invest in community policing. Only when we get properly trained, diverse officers into the communities, working within neighborhoods before trouble arises, do we develop the relationships necessary to make our communities safer together.” – Told to The Trace
“Expand HUD’s community development block grant programs to allow funding for gun violence prevention programs… Partner with organizations focused on community based solutions… Set up a task force of urban community leaders who are impacted by gun violence by homicide.” Campaign website
“Programs that engage the surrounding community, employ mediation to prevent retaliation, build trust with law enforcement, and provide needed long-term social services have been proven to de-escalate tensions and dramatically reduce violence. As president, I’ll establish a grant program to invest in and pilot these types of evidence-based intervention programs at scale.” Medium
“I propose a U.S. Department of Peace that would focus on reducing violence in our homes and in our streets… I would work with and support local law enforcement agencies to help stem the tide of illegal guns and spread best practices by cities who are reducing illegal guns and make these ideas available to other cities and localities.” – Told to The Trace
“Initiate and fund mindfulness programs in schools and correctional facilities, which have been demonstrated to reduce violent behavior.” Campaign website

No information found

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🔗 Should all prospective gun buyers be required to obtain a license from the federal government?

Currently, 14 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of licensing requirement in place. These may require prospective buyers to obtain a permit to purchase a gun, maintain a license as long as they own one, or undergo mandatory safety training before they are able to buy a firearm. Experts rank gun licensing among the most effective policies for reducing gun deaths.

Answer Comments
“Michael agrees with the goal of keeping firearms out of the wrong hands and believes that everyone should be required to go through a background check.” – Told to The Trace
“Biden will enact legislation to give states and local governments grants to require individuals to obtain a license prior to purchasing a gun.” Campaign website
“Individuals could seek a gun license at a designated local office… They would submit fingerprints, provide basic background information, and demonstrate completion of a certified gun safety course. The FBI would then verify submission of required materials and run a comprehensive background check before issuing a federal gun license, after which the license-holder could freely purchase and own firearms. The license would be valid for up to five years before renewal with regular, automatic checks to flag non-compliance with license terms.” Medium
Buttigieg’s campaign platform says he will “establish a nationwide gun licensing system.” Campaign website
Delaney co-sponsored a bill that would provide federal grants to state and local governments for handgun licensing programs. Congress.gov
“Senator Klobuchar would consider this.” The New York Times
“Bernie supports the right of states, localities and tribal governments to implement licensing programs.” – Told to The Trace
“National licensing for all gun ownership.” Campaign website
“I believe gun buyers should be required to obtain a firearms license from the federal government before purchasing a gun. We have that requirement in Massachusetts, and I am a cosponsor of Senator Markey’s bill to create incentives for similar laws nationwide.” – Told to The Trace
Told to The Trace
“As president, I will promote a stringent, tiered licensing system for gun ownership.” Campaign website

No information found

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🔗 Do you support Extreme Risk Protection Order laws?

ERPO laws, also known as red flag laws, allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to have guns removed from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. Since the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, 11 states have passed their own red flag laws, and several others are actively considering similar legislation. At the federal level, a proposed bill would create grants to encourage state, local, and tribal governments to adopt red flag laws.

Answer Comments
Told to The Trace
“Biden will incentivize the adoption of these laws by giving states funds to implement them. And, he’ll direct the U.S. Department of Justice to issue best practices and offer technical assistance to states interested in enacting an extreme risk law.” Campaign website
“Cory will incentivize states to pass ERPO laws.” Medium
“Pete wants to disrupt easy access to firearms through measures including Extreme Risk Protection Orders, also known as red flag laws.” Campaign website
“Delaney is calling for a national extreme risk protection order law that would provide grants to support state, local, and tribal governments that adopt extreme risk laws.” Campaign website
Klobuchar co-sponsored the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act this year. Congress.gov
“Bernie supports legislation to ensure we keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers and ‘red flag’ laws such as the one in place in Vermont which allow for temporary removal of firearms from those deemed by a state court a danger to themselves or others.” – Told to The Trace
“Establish strong Red Flag/Extreme Risk laws.” Campaign website
“I support extreme risk protection order laws to temporarily keep guns away from people at risk of committing violence.” – Told to The Trace
“We need to be proactive to prevent violence.” – Told to The Trace
Yang’s platform says he will “prevent dangerous individuals from owning guns,” but does not mention red flag laws specifically. Campaign website

No information found

9 of 12

🔗 Should the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act be repealed?

This law, passed in 2005, shields gun manufacturers and dealers from liability when their products are used to commit crimes. Since its passage, the law has prevented most lawsuits against gun makers and dealers from proceeding to trial.

Answer Comments
“Michael believes that gun manufacturers who act irresponsibly or negligently should be held responsible for their actions. He would support repealing or amending the PLCAA if it is necessary to ensure that they are.” – Told to The Trace
As a senator, Biden voted against PLCAA. U.S. Senate
“Cory will fight to end gun industry immunity by repealing PLCAA and allow victims of gun violence to have their day in court when a gun dealer or manufacturer has acted negligently.” Medium
Told to The Trace
“Yes, and there certainly should not be specific loopholes created only for gun manufacturers that protect them more than any other business.” WBALTV
Klobuchar co-sponsored a bill to repeal PLCAA this year. Congress.gov
“When Bernie is in the White House, we will pass the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act into law to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act’s prevention of lawsuits against the gun industry.” – Told to The Trace
“Work with Congress to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.” Campaign website
“I’ve co-sponsored Senator Blumenthal’s Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, which would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, finally giving victims of gun violence their day in court.” – Told to The Trace
“If manufacturers and dealers were held more accountable, it would encourage them to be more proactive for safety.” – Told to The Trace
“We should institute a system of fines anytime a firearm gets used in a mass shooting on the gun manufacturer.” Twitter

No information found

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🔗 Should the Consumer Product Safety Commission have regulatory authority over the products of gun manufacturers?

The Consumer Product Safety Act, the 1972 statute which established the country’s dedicated consumer safety agency, explicitly excludes firearms and ammunition from the oversight function that the agency wields over most other consumer goods. As a result, the CPSC cannot currently collect data on accidental gun injuries, work with the industry to establish safety standards, or issue recalls for defective firearms.

Answer Comments
“Michael would support such an effort, but he would first start with advancing universal background checks, which the public broadly supports and would be an effective way of reducing gun violence.” – Told to The Trace
In the Obama administration, Biden led a gun safety task force that recommended Obama issue an executive order authorizing the CPSC to “review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes.” NCSL
“Cory will work to close this loophole in federal oversight and allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure gun safety by making safety warnings and issuing recalls for faulty firearms.” Medium
Told to The Trace
“We know that gun manufacturers are not making the safety updates they could. Gun manufacturers must be held accountable.” – Told to The Trace
“Expand the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to oversee and regulate firearms.” Campaign website
“Congress should repeal the provision of law that prevents the Consumer Product Safety Commission from regulating the safety of firearms and their accessories.” Medium
Told to The Trace
“Create federal safety guidelines for gun manufacture and distribution, similar to federal car safety requirements, with strict penalties for the violation of these guidelines.” Campaign website

No information found

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🔗 Should Congress appropriate federal funds to study gun violence?

Since 1996, language in a congressional appropriations bill has served as a de facto prohibition on the CDC’s ability to fund research on gun violence as a public health issue. Last year, new language clarified that the CDC may, in fact, direct its funding to the study of gun violence, and on June 19, the House passed a spending bill that included $50 million in gun violence funding, the first time since the 1990s that the subject has received an earmark in a congressional bill. (The bill is unlikely to make it through the Senate.)

Answer Comments
Told to The Trace
“Biden will call for Congress to appropriate $50 million to accelerate this research at the CDC and NIH.” Campaign website
“After nearly two decades of shameful inaction, Cory will make a significant investment into research on gun violence, including into evidence-based approaches to reducing gun suicide.” Medium
“I would propose absolutely no less than the $2.6 million a year spent by the CDC on gun violence research prior to the enactment of the Dickey Amendment. To develop new studies and revive the infrastructure of firearms research, I would propose a $50 million annual investment in the CDC and NIH.” – Told to The Trace
“Though the ban on CDC research into gun violence was finally lifted in 2018, Congress still has not provided funding. Providing full support for federal research would help prevent violence and save lives.” Campaign website
Gabbard co-sponsored a bill that would remove restrictions on the CDC’s ability to fund research about gun violence. Congress.gov
“Senator Klobuchar will direct the CDC to study gun violence as a public health issue and help identify approaches to reduce gun violence and save lives.” Medium
“Bernie believes we need more research on gun violence, suicide, and especially the epidemic of veteran suicides. We will provide significant funding to both CDC and NIH to study gun violence.” – Told to The Trace
“Directly fund… research at the CDC and NIH on gun violence.” Campaign website
“My budget will include an annual investment of $100 million for DOJ and HHS to conduct research into the root causes of gun violence and the most effective ways to prevent it.” Medium
“The restriction on studying gun violence as a public health issue should be removed.” – Told to The Trace

No information found

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🔗 If Congress does not pass new gun regulations while you are president, would you enact new restrictions via executive order?

Executive orders, which presidents may issue to direct the operations of the federal government, have been used with increasing frequency in recent administrations. President Obama announced a range of gun reform measures via executive order in 2013, following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and another set in 2016.

Answer Comments
Told to The Trace
“Biden will also use his executive authority to ban the importation of assault weapons.” Campaign website
“The president and I are determined to take action… There is executive action that can be taken.” The New York Times
“Beginning on Day One in office, Cory will take executive action to build on ongoing efforts and take concrete steps forward — closing dangerous loopholes in gun sales, cracking down on unscrupulous dealers and gun manufacturers, and investing in communities impacted by gun violence.” Medium
“I would certainly explore executive action, but we need legislation because it’s going to be more robust.” Press gaggle
“Large, bipartisan majorities support a broad range of common sense gun safety measures, but political partisanship has prevented the government from taking the necessary steps. Delaney believes it is possible to respect the Second Amendment and still adopt meaningful reforms.” Campaign website
“Senator Klobuchar leads legislation in the Senate to close the ‘boyfriend loophole’ by preventing people who have abused dating partners from buying or owning firearms, and she will take executive action to get it done immediately.” Medium
“If Congress fails to act on gun safety, Bernie will take executive action to expand background checks, hold manufacturers and dealers accountable, end loopholes that put guns in the wrong hands, and require government contractors to disclose political spending.” – Told to The Trace
“Everytown for Gun Safety has thoughtfully proposed 10 executive actions that the next president can take to protect the American people from gun violence. I fully support these measures.” The New York Times
“As president, I would use every administrative tool, including executive orders, to address it.” – Told to The Trace
“I will immediately take executive action to rein in an out-of-control gun industry… Redefining anyone ‘engaged in the business’ of dealing in firearms to include the vast majority of gun sales outside of family-to-family exchanges… I’ll make sure that the NRA and their cronies are held accountable with executive action.” Medium
“We must take action to prevent any more Sandy Hooks. Our children deserve to be safe in their schools and citizens safe in their communities.” – Told to The Trace

No information found

Michael Bloomberg co-founded Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. Everytown’s charitable arm, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, provides funding to The Trace. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is also part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Additional reporting by Tom Kutsch. All photos from AP Images. Icons by Eleonor Wang from flaticon.com.