WASHINGTON — Last weekend’s senseless carnage thrust the politics of gun control into the center of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, prompting numerous candidates to make or reiterate full-throated calls for sweeping gun reforms, like assault weapons buy-backs or national licensing systems.
Among the candidates who have yet to release a detailed gun safety policy is an unexpected name: Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator who has made ambitious and progressive policy proposals the bedrock of her presidential race. There are 29 policy accouncements listed on Warren’s campaign website, but none of them specifically mention guns.
That is likely to change by this weekend, however: A campaign aide said she is set to release a new plan on guns prior to a forum organized by Everytown for Gun Safety and other groups in Iowa on Saturday. The plan will deal at least in part with enforcement, according to a person familiar with it, calling for strengthening the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with more money and tougher regulations, and revoking licenses from gun dealers who violate rules.
Warren has consistently called for stronger gun safety measures in Congress, winning her high praise from gun safety groups. But the fact that she waited until the eighth month of her campaign to deliver a comprehensive policy on an issue at the heart of some of her opponents’ platforms gives their allies an opening to suggest that she has a hard time getting out of her own policy wheelhouse.
“The senator does an extremely good job dealing with issues that fall within the realm of economics,” said Bakari Sellers, a former state lawmaker in South Carolina who has endorsed California Senator Kamala Harris. “Some of the other issues . . . she struggles with.”
But she has a worldview that is at once sweeping and deeply focused, relating most of society’s ills back to the issues of corruption, corporate greed, and economic inequality that animate her campaign. While critics like Sellers suggest her focus on her core themes is limiting, other Democrats see that focus as an asset for her campaign that helps her link different issues together.
“No matter the issue, it can connect back to an overall theme, which I think is powerful for voters,” said Andrew Feldman, a progressive Democratic strategist in Washington.
This week, instead of immediately rolling out a new gun plan, she tied gun control directly to her concerns about the role of money in politics.
“The majority of Americans want to see us put sensible legislation in place to get the guns out of the hands of people who pose threats like this, and yet it doesn’t happen and the reason for that is because the gun manufacturers own Washington,” Warren said in an interview on MSNBC on Sunday, vowing to do “everything I can by by executive order,” and calling to get rid of the filibuster so the Senate can pass new gun laws with a simple majority. Warren also urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call the Senate in for a vote on background check bills passed by House Democrats.
Other candidates, meanwhile, have already made detailed, multi-part gun safety proposals a central tenet of their campaigns. In April, Harris released a plan to take four specific executive actions to increase background checks, take lawbreaking gun dealers to court, and more. The following month, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker rolled out a 14-point gun violence plan that is anchored by a federal licensing program for gun owners.
Following the shootings over the weekend, two other candidates — Washington Governor Jay Inslee and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — each rolled out new multi-step gun safety plans on Tuesday, both of which echoed Booker’s call for nationwide gun licensing.
On Sunday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called for a ban on making, selling, and transferring assault weapons and a buyback program; the following day, in a CNN interview, former vice president Joe Biden endorsed a national buyback program, and his campaign is touting his efforts to pass the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which has since expired.
Gun safety advocates say the issue is likely to become central in both the primary and the general election, marking a significant shift from the 2008 and 2012 elections.
“What we’re going to see in 2020 is a referendum on the future of firearms policy in America,” said Peter Ambler, the executive director of the gun safety group Giffords. He said guns were also a galvanizing issue for Democratic voters in last year’s midterm elections.
Warren is not the only top-tier candidate who has yet to lay out a comprehensive gun policy. Biden has not released one, either, although an aide said the campaign will do so in the future.
At times over the course of her campaign, Warren has sounded a cautious note on guns that is at odds with some of her more crusading liberal politics. During the first Democratic debate, she called for new research into gun violence, which has gotten little government funding in part because of an NRA-backed amendment from the 1990s that stymied gun research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a video interview with the New York Times, she emphasized a cultural connection to guns drawn from her childhood in Oklahoma. “My family had guns when I was growing up. My brothers have guns,” she said, adding, “We need to have better gun safety laws in place, serious laws.”
Warren speaks more about the issue on the campaign trail if she is asked specifically about it by audience members, and often seeks to broaden the conversation beyond mass shootings to the pain of everyday gun violence — a point some gun control advocates appreciate.
“It’s not just the mass shootings that make headlines, it’s the children who are shot on our sidewalks, in our playgrounds and backyards, visiting a friend,” Warren said in Lansing, Mich., recently.
“We know what we need to do,” Warren said, calling for universal background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and to “take the weapons of war off our streets.”