Good morning, Bulletin readers. The 2020 Democratic primary candidates had their fourth face-off last night. Takeaways from the gun policy portion of the debate lead your Wednesday briefing

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The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates remain united on enacting comprehensive federal gun reforms. To tease out their differences, the moderators of last night’s debate teed up a showdown on the more divisive question of a mandatory assault weapons buyback:

  • Beto O’Rourke defended his call for a mandatory buyback program on logical grounds, arguing that candidates who conclude that military-inspired rifles are too dangerous for civilian sales should also support removing existing weapons from circulation. But he moderated his rhetoric, saying that “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” does not mean door-to-door searches. Instead, O’Rourke would appeal to gun owners’ sense of responsibility: “The expectation is that Americans will follow the law. I believe in this country. I believe in my fellow Americans. I believe that they will do the right thing.” Blatant non-compliers, under his approach, would face unspecified “consequences from law enforcement.” 
  • Pete Buttigieg continued his criticism of O’Rourke’s mandatory buyback pitch as a campaign ploy: “We cannot wait for purity tests. We have to just get something his done.” The South Bend, Indiana, mayor favors bans on new assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, universal background checks, and red flag laws, which he notably tied to reducing suicides “which are not being talked about nearly enough as a huge part of the gun violence epidemic in this country.”  
  • Julián Castro explained his opposition to mandatory gun buybacks by touching on the problem of police shootings, “In the places that I grew up in, we weren’t exactly looking for another reason for cops to come banging on the door.”
  • Kamala Harris supported mandatory buybacks but pivoted to focus on her vow to use executive actions to enact new gun safety measures in the face of congressional gridlock. We explored the limits of that approach here
  • Joe Biden pitched his alternative to aggressive regulation of existing assault-style weapons: Give owners the option of selling those guns to the government, or registering them.
  • Elizabeth Warren also favored registration, which was successfully used to limit civilian ownership of fully automatic rifles under the National Firearms Act: “I want to use the method we used, for example, with machine guns. We registered them, we put in a huge penalty if you didn’t register them, and a huge tax on them, and then let people turn them in, and it got machine guns out of the hands of people.”
  • Cory Booker used his time to highlight his support for mandatory gun licensing: “I’m living with a sense of urgency on this problem … like millions of Americans, we live in communities where these weapons, where these gun shots are real every single day.” 

You can find a full debate transcript here.

Booker is sponsoring a bill that would devote $90 million annually to tackle community gun violence. The New Jersey senator’s plan would direct federal funds to street-based and hospital-based violence intervention programs over a 10-year period. The legislation, co-sponsored by Representative Steven Horsford of Nevada, grew out of a collaboration between gun reform group Giffords and a coalition of organizations led by Oakland minister Michael McBride. Go deeper: What gun violence prevention looks like when it focuses on the communities hurt the most.

NEW from The TRACE and The 74: Some Florida school districts are forming their own police forces, despite safety questions. Less than a month after the Parkland shooting in February 2018, state legislators passed a law requiring school districts to station at least one armed person on every K-12 campus. Three Florida districts took that as a cue to enter the law enforcement business, creating their own police departments, which collectively cover more than 100 campuses. Research, however, cast doubts about whether the approach prevents shootings. Mark Keierleber of The 74 brings you the story.

Six people were killed in a mass shooting in Puerto Rico. The victims, five men and a woman, died in a barrage of gunfire at a housing complex in the capital city of San Juan on Monday night. Five others were wounded. More than 1,000 shell casings were collected at the scene.

Another NYPD officer has died by suicide. The off-duty officer was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Queens neighborhood on Tuesday night, and died after being taken to a hospital. He was the tenth New York City cop to die by suicide this year, significantly above the yearly average.

The Department of Justice announced a $16.5 million award to crack down on domestic violence in Northern Texas. As The Trace has reported, Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney in Dallas, is piloting an aggressive approach to prosecuting abusers who unlawfully keep guns. The Dallas Morning News has more on the injection of funding her office will receive through the grant.

Twitter clarified its policy on posting images of homemade guns. After an arms analyst had his posting privileges suspended for sharing images relating to the homemade guns used in last week’s shooting outside a German synagogue, The Guardian’s Lois Beckett asked the company how exactly he had violated Twitter’s rules. Twitter responded: “Tweets that demonstrate how firearms can be built — regardless of the context — are in violation of the stated policies.”

A bill in St. Louis would require gun dealers to notify police after a failed gun background check. “If they’re failing to buy a gun through conventional means because they failed a background check, they would probably go out and attempt to purchase a gun through illegal means,” Alderman President Lewis Reed said of the measure, which had a hearing on Tuesday. From The Trace archives: A bipartisan “lie and try” bill in Congress would require the FBI to alert state and local law enforcement within 24 hours of a prohibited person’s attempt to buy a gun.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recovered 42 untraceable “ghost guns” in the Philadelphia area between June 2018 and June 2019. [Fox 43]