Good morning, Bulletin readers. Beto O’Rourke’s unabashed endorsement of removing assault-style rifles from civilian ownership at last night’s Democratic debate is getting many of the headlines this morning. But there’s more to parse in the candidates’ exchanges. Our takeaways are below. 

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The 2020 Democratic field remains united it its support for an expansive gun violence prevention agenda. But important distinctions and themes emerged during last night’s debate.  

On an assault weapons buyback:  

  • Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been calling for a mandatory buyback since this summer’s spate of mass shootings hit his hometown of El Paso. “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he proclaimed, adding that he had spoken to gun owners who agreed. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has pitched herself to voters as a more moderate option, said a buyback should be voluntary.

On executive action: 

  • Senator Kamala Harris defended her call for executive actions to address gun violence, saying that “the idea that we would wait for this Congress, which has just done nothing, to act …  is overlooking the fact that every day in America, our babies are going to school to have drills.” But Vice President Joe Biden countered that a unilateral move by the White House might not hold up in court, and insisted that the National Rifle Association can be beaten on Capitol Hill, saying that after the defeat of gun legislation following Sandy Hook, gun reform “went from a cause to a movement.”

On the importance of focusing on all gun violence:  

  • Senator Cory Booker repeated his proposal for a federal license for gun ownership and cited his experience working in inner-city Newark and seeing firsthand the devastation wrought by community gun violence. He attributed the failure to solve the problem to a national “crisis of empathy.” Senator Elizabeth Warren also noted that gun violence extends beyond mass shootings. She blamed “a Congress that is beholden to the gun industry” for not addressing the issue, and blasted the filibuster for blocking reforms supported by broad majorities of Americans.

You can find a full debate transcript here. And you can read about what the candidates have said about assault weapons buybacks in our 2020 candidates’ guide.

NEW from THE TRACE: How would an assault weapons buyback actually work? Commentators have noted the political significance of Democratic candidates’ embrace of removing military-style semiautomatic rifles from circulation by having the federal government compensate owners for turning them in. We wanted to understand how much such an initiative might actually cost, and the other logistical challenges it would have to surmount. Only two nations, Australia and New Zealand, have undertaken a mandatory gun buyback. The United States has 10 times as many people as Australia and New Zealand combined, and more guns than adults. Champe Barton ran the numbers.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott stopped short of endorsing mandatory background checks. Among the recommendations in the Republican governor’s Texas Safety Action Report is a directive to the Legislature to “consider ways to make it easy, affordable, and beneficial for a private seller of firearms to voluntarily use background checks when selling firearms to strangers.” Abbott also suggested penalizing prohibited gun buyers who fail background checks and cracking down on straw purchases.

Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio reiterates call for red flag laws. In a New York Times op-ed on Thursday, Rubio said that laws to disarm individuals deemed to be a social threat are “the most effective step Congress can take right now” to disarm dangerous people “without infringing on other Americans’ rights.”

The El Paso Walmart gunman was indicted on capital murder charges. If found guilty, the 21-year-old faces the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole for the August 3 shooting, which left 22 people dead and 25 others wounded.

An NRA reformer says he got kicked out of a meeting of members ahead of the gun group’s board meeting. Rob Pincus, who has criticized the gun group and serves as the spokesperson of the “Save the Second” campaign, posted about the incident on social media on Thursday. The board meeting was relocated from Alaska to Washington, D.C., as lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate new gun measures. As Newsweek has reported, cost and optics may also have influenced the move.

A Pennsylvania court made it easier to sue to overturn local gun ordinances. In a victory for gun rights groups, the Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that someone does not need to have violated a city’s firearm ordinance in order to try to get it rescinded, overruling a prior court decision.

The deputy city attorney in Los Angeles perpetrated a murder-suicide. Eric Lertzman, 60, fatally shot his wife and 19-year-old son on Wednesday before killing himself. His boss, City Attorney Mike Feuer, co-founded Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, and has aggressively penalized parents whose children obtain guns.


Democrats in Congress appear to be backing away from an assault weapons ban. With 211 sponsors, a bill to restore a federal ban on assault weapons appears seven votes shy of what it needs to pass, and The New York Times reports that some Democrats from districts that went for President Trump are leery of alienating voters by pushing the measure through. The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the policy next month. “Let’s be honest,” said Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a sponsor of the current assault weapons ban. “Every other bill that we’ve done tries to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. This is the one piece of legislation that keeps a particular weapon out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. A lot of people have enormous objections to that.”