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Gun Violence Prevention Key Topic During First Night of Debates

As Democrats took the stage last night for their first debate of the 2020 presidential cycle, one thing was clear: Gun violence prevention will be a marquee issue for the next sixteen months.

“It’s no secret why gun safety was a central focus of the first debate: American voters are demanding answers — and action — on one of the nation’s most urgent public health emergencies,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “The key role gun safety is playing in the race for the White House is yet another reminder that gun safety has gone from the third rail of American politics to a top priority for candidates.”

“American families don’t have the option of ignoring gun violence, and neither do political candidates. Voters, particularly American women, are going to go to the polls with this issue in mind,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “It’s incumbent upon candidates to prove that they are as committed to this issue as we are, so it’s no wonder that so many of them spoke about gun safety at the debates this week.”’

Some of the debate’s most notable exchanges were in response to moderator questions about gun violence prevention. Here’s some of what the candidates said about tackling the gun violence epidemic in America:

    Senator Cory Booker: “For millions of Americans this is not a policy issue. This is an urgency. And for those who have not been directly affected, they’re tired of living in a country where their kids go to school to learn about reading, writing, and arithmetic, and how to deal with an active shooter in their school. This is something that I’m tired of. And I’m tired of hearing people, all they have to offer is thoughts and prayers. … But the reason we have a problem right now is we’ve let the corporate gun lobby frame this debate. It is time that we have bold actions and a bold agenda.”

    Julián Castro: “And the activists of Parkland, folks from Moms Demand who have risen up across the United States and inspired so many people… you know, we may not have seen yet legislative action, but we’re getting closer. The House took a vote. In the Senate, the question often is, if the decision is between 60 votes, a filibuster, or passing common sense gun reform, I’m going to choose common sense gun reform. So I believe that we’re going to be able to get that done in 2021.”

    Senator Amy Klobuchar: “I look at these proposals and I say, does this hurt my Uncle Dick and his deer stand, coming from a proud hunting and fishing state? These proposals don’t do that. When I was a prosecutor, I supported the assault weapon ban. When I was in the Senate, I saw those moms from Sandy Hook come and try to advocate for change and we all failed. And then now, these Parkland kids from Florida, they started a literally a national shift. It’s just like with gay marriage. When kids talked to their parents and their grandparents, they say I don’t understand why we can’t put these sensible things in place, they listen.”

    Beto O’Rourke: “Those weapons of war were designed to kill people as effectively and as efficiently as possible. They should belong on the battlefield and not in our communities. Red Flag laws, so if someone poses a danger to themselves or to someone else, they’re stopped before it’s too late. And what I found in each one of those 254 counties is that Democrats and independents and Republicans, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, agreed. But this effort must be led by the young people that you referenced at the beginning of this issue. Those students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas led the charge here in Florida, and they’ve been able to change those laws. They’re making our democracy work, ensuring that our values and our interests and our priorities are reflected in the laws that we pass.”

    Rep. Tim Ryan: “I support all the gun reforms here. We need to start dealing with the trauma that our kids have. We need trauma-based care in every school. We need social and emotional learning in every school. Ninety percent of the shooters who do school shootings come from the school they’re in, and 73 percent of them feel shamed, traumatized, or bullied. We need to make sure that these kids feel connected to the school.”

    Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Seven children will die today from gun violence—children and teenagers. And they won’t just die in mass shootings. They’ll die on sidewalks. They’ll die in playgrounds. They’ll die in people’s backyards. Gun violence is a national health emergency in this country and we need to treat it like that. So what can we do? We can do the things that are sensible. We can do the universal background checks. We can ban the weapons of war. But we can also double down on the research and find out what really works, where it is that we can make the differences at the margins that will keep our children safe. We need to treat this like the virus that’s killing our children.”

See the full debate transcript from NBC News here.

The 2020 presidential cycle has been notable for the number of candidates proudly embracing gun safety as an issue to run and win on. Gun policy was ranked the top issue Democratic voters wanted to hear about in debates, behind only climate change, in a new Morning Consult/Politico poll released earlier this week.

To help track the latest news on gun policy, Everytown for Gun Safety has launched an interactive tracker:
In Their Own Words, Where the 2020 Candidates Stand on Gun Safety.

Everytown previously released a list of 10 executive actions the next President can take to tackle gun safety. Everytown also previously released this video of 2020 presidential candidates speaking out about their support for gun safety while on the campaign trail.

Last month, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Moms Demand Action announced the release of the 2020 Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate questionnaire to all major 2020 presidential candidates. Each candidate has until early July to complete and return the questionnaire in order to be considered for the presidential Gun Sense Candidate distinction this cycle. Questionnaires ask about where the candidates stand on the issues, how candidates are making gun safety a central part of their campaigns and how candidates will lead on gun safety if they win.