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Where the 2020 Democrats Stand on Gun Control

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. endorsed a national assault-weapons buyback program for the first time on Monday night, joining other Democratic presidential candidates in calling for new gun control measures in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend that left 31 people dead.

In an interview on CNN, Mr. Biden also reaffirmed his support for universal background checks on new gun purchasers and for a ban on assault rifles. And on Tuesday morning, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., released his own plan aimed at curbing gun violence and extremism, and becoming the latest candidate to propose a nationwide gun licensing system.

As the nation reels from the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, many of the 2020 contenders are eager to explain what they would do about gun violence if elected president. While the field of two-dozen hopefuls has largely agreed on a set of ideas that Democrats have been trying to advance unsuccessfully for decades, some candidates have latched onto more progressive policies that previously might not have been politically palatable.

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Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who released a gun control plan in May, is expected to deliver a major speech on gun violence on Wednesday morning. His plan, one of the more progressive ones in the field, included a proposal for a federal gun licensing program.

Also this week, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, whose hometown is El Paso, came out in favor of gun licenses and buyback programs after having previously endorsed less stringent measures, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said that he was in favor of buybacks and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington released his own gun-safety proposal.

Several other candidates, including Senator Kamala Harris of California, former Representative John Delaney of Maryland and the self-help author Marianne Williamson, have already issued plans outlining how they would deal with guns.

Many of the Democrats agree on policies like universal background checks, bans on assault rifles and so-called red-flag laws, which would allow for the confiscation of firearms from people found to be mentally ill.

Here’s a look at some of the ideas that have been proposed and who backs them.

ImageCreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York TimesGun licensing

Under a gun licensing program, a person seeking to buy a firearm would need to apply for a license in much the same way one applies for a passport. Such a program would set minimum standards for gun ownership nationwide.

Mr. Booker’s 14-part plan to combat gun violence has a gun licensing program as its centerpiece. His campaign has said the process would involve submitting fingerprints and sitting for an interview, and would require applicants to complete a certified gun safety course. Each applicant would also undergo a federal background check before being issued a gun license, which would be valid for up to five years.

Now Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. O’Rourke also back such a plan. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado expressed his support for gun licensing in a plan he released a few weeks after Mr. Booker’s.

Research has shown that background checks and bans on assault weapons, when implemented at the state level, are not nearly as effective at reducing gun homicides and suicides as gun licensing programs for purchasers. A study published in 2018 found that 63 percent of gun owners supported requiring a person to obtain a license from a local law enforcement agency before buying a gun; support for gun licensing among people who do not own a gun was even higher.

2020 Democrats on Guns

We asked the candidates whether anyone would own handguns in an ideal world.

Gun buybacks

In gun buyback programs, government agencies (or other groups) offer cash or other incentives to persuade people to turn over firearms. The idea has been used by police departments around the country.

Representative Eric Swalwell of California, who dropped out of the presidential race in July, made gun control his signature issue and put the idea of a nationwide buyback program for assault weapons on the table.

Mr. Swalwell’s buyback program would have been mandatory, and he said the government would pay market rate for the guns; his plan suggested that anyone who refused to comply would be criminally prosecuted.

In an interview on “Pod Save America” on Monday, Mr. O’Rourke said he would support a mandatory buyback program. Mr. Biden, in his comments Monday night, appeared to endorse a voluntary approach.

“Right now, there’s no legal way that I’m aware of that you could deny them the right” to own an assault weapon if it had been legally purchased, Mr. Biden said.

He added that he would not support having law enforcement confiscate Americans’ firearms by “knocking on their doors” or “going through their gun cabinets.”

ImageCreditChet Strange for The New York TimesAssault weapons bans, background checks and more

Many of the candidates agree on other measures they say would curb gun violence, such as an assault weapons ban, background checks and red-flag laws.

Mr. Biden has at times been burdened by the 1994 crime bill he championed, which critics say helped lead to mass incarceration of African-Americans. But the bill also banned assault weapons for a decade before it expired. Now Mr. Biden and several other candidates say they would seek to reauthorize a measure that would have the same effect.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans this week called on Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, to bring up legislation that would require gun buyers — including those on the internet and at gun shows — to go through background checks. The Democrat-led House passed a background checks bill in February.

President Trump on Monday floated the idea that Republicans and Democrats could work together to strengthen background checks, but he did not return to that notion during comments he made later in the day.

Mr. Trump stunned lawmakers last year when, on live television, he called for comprehensive gun control legislation after a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla. His proposal would have expanded background checks, and at one point he even suggested having a conversation about an assault weapons ban. But he abandoned those efforts less than two weeks later.

Most of the Democratic candidates who have released specific plans on gun violence also support measures such as banning high-capacity magazines, funding gun-violence research and raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21.

And several candidates have called for closing the so-called boyfriend loophole by barring people who are under a restraining order or who were convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a domestic partner from buying guns.

“We cannot continue to live in this reality,” Mr. Booker wrote in an email to supporters on Sunday. “There are so many steps we can take to end this uniquely American problem.”

More on Gun Control and PoliticsShootings Spur Debate on Extremism and Guns, With Trump on DefenseAug 5, 2019Cory Booker’s Gun Control Plan Calls for National Licensing ProgramMay 6, 2019


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