Nine of the leading Democratic presidential contenders discussed gun safety Wednesday at a policy forum in Las Vegas organized by advocacy groups March For Our Lives and Giffords and moderated by "MSNBC Live" anchor Craig Melvin.
Candidates clashed over gun buyback and licensing plans while discussing how to address the causes of gun violence during the six-hour forum.
The event came a day after the second anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest music festival mass shooting — the deadliest in recent U.S. history.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Harris: ‘I support a mandatory buyback program’
Harris reiterated her support for the mandatory buyback of assault weapons, joining Beto O’Rourke and fellow Sen. Cory Booker in backing the approach from the forum stage.
“We have to have a buyback program, and I support a mandatory gun buyback program,” she said. “It’s got to be smart, we got to do it the right way. But there are 5 million [assault weapons] at least, some estimate as many as 10 million, and we’re going to have to have smart public policy that’s about taking those off the streets, but doing it the right way.”
Harris addresses gun suicides
Harris answered a question from Dr. Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon from Baltimore who has cared for hundreds of victims of gun violence.
To combat gun suicides, Harris said she would prevent those who a court has said should not have a gun from obtaining a firearm through expanded background checks.
She added that she would also strengthen gun safety laws and increase access to mental health services, saying "we have need do both."
Harris also said she would take executive action on her first day as president to ban the importation of assault weapons and expand background checks.
Harris says 'devaluation of human life' contributes to gun violence
Harris opened up about her first-hand experience as San Francisco's district attorney dealing with black mothers whose sons were victims of gun violence, noting that black men and boys more likely to die from gun violence than their white peers.
"This is not something I've just realized," she said. "It is an issue I've dealt with this my entire career."
Harris said part of the problem is the "devaluation of human life" and the "devaluation of black men and black boys."
"The goal should be safe and healthy communities," she said, adding that putting resources back into the local economy of many of these communities — such as schools and social services — is needed to improve outcomes.
Yang talks divesting from policing and prisons and reinvesting in communities hit by gun violence, calls for ending school shooting drills
Yang answered a question from Taylor Martin and Jesse Holmes — two high school students from Washington, D.C. — about making gun violence a public health issue and reallocating resources form policing and incarceration to communities that have been harmed by it.
Yang called the criminal justice system “inhumane” and called for the end of private prisons. He said that money should go to families and communities that can create small businesses and increase the buying power of black consumers to improve neighborhoods.
We pay a “higher and darker price” by putting money towards prisons and over-policing minority communities, he said, adding, “We need to treat gun violence like a public health crisis."
Ending active shooter drills
Yang, a father of two, also called for an end to school shooting drills, saying they do more harm than good.
"I was talking to parents and children who were very anxious, understandably" because they were being made to to imagine what they'd do if someone came into their school to try to kill them and their classmates, he said.
"It gives rise to a real sense of uncertainty — if you can't be secure in your own classroom and you're a child, your entire sense of the world gets shaken," Yang said, adding that any benefits of the drills are "speculative," while their emotional toll has a "real impact" in terms of anxiety and depression.
"You have to give your kids a chance to go to school and not worry about getting shot, in my opinion. Let the adults worry about them getting shot and let the kids go to school," he said.
Yang: $1,000 'Freedom Dividend' could help reduce gun violence
Andrew Yang made the case his signature proposal to give residents a “Freedom Dividend” of $1,000 a month would help reduce gun violence by reducing economic pressure on households.
“If you’ve heard anything about me, you know that I want to give every American $1,000 a month," he said, responding to a a question about his cash proposal. "And there are many reasons why I’m certain we should do this, but it even impacts the causes, the underlying root causes of gun violence, because if you look at the series of events that leads to gun violence, what do we talk about? We’re talking about the composition and stress levels in homes and the family. We’re talking about what’s happening in our school systems.”
Yang has also proposed a variety of new gun laws, including a three-tiered licensing requirement that would mandate that purchasers meet higher standards before purchasing more advanced firearms.
Yang says his 'democracy dollars' plan would counter gun lobby influence
Yang proposed using his "democracy dollars" plan to counter the influence of the gun lobby in Washington.
The plan is to give each American voter $100 in publicly funded vouchers — earmarked for campaign donations only. He said that putting money in the hands of voters would shift the perspective of lawmakers on gun safety legislation who rely on campaign donations from industry lobbyists.
"That's how we override the stranglehold the gun lobby has over our lives," he said.
Amy Klobuchar says she'd focus on limiting magazine sizes
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she'd rather focus on limiting the size of gun magazines than gun sales.
Asked if she was in favor of restricting the number of guns a person could purchase to one a month, Klobuchar said she was "open" to the idea, but had other priorities, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
"One of the things I think is a great idea that just we haven't talked about a lot is the magazine limitations. I think the public is very open to this," she said, adding that it's one of the measures that passes her "Uncle Dick" test: "Does this hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand?"
"These ideas we've talked about" — background checks, red flag laws, closing the so-called boyfriend loophole and putting limits on magazine sizes — "they don't hurt him in his deer stand, they don't hurt other hunters in their deer stands," she said. "I would focus more on that than limits on the numbers of guns."
Buttigieg visits Las Vegas hospital that treated mass shooting victims
After speaking at today’s forum, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made a stop at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, which treated more than 100 victims of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, where he joined medical staff for a roundtable discussion.
Amy Klobuchar on the ‘boyfriend loophole’
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. talked about her work to try to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which allows people convicted of domestic abuse or stalking charges against dating partners to retain a gun in some cases.
Arguing the issue affected more than just individual families, Klobuchar recalled a case in Minnesota in which a police officer was killed responding responding to a domestic violence case.
“Domestic violence and domestic violence homicides with guns are not just about the immediate victim, they’re about our entire community,” she said. “When we think about this gun issue, we can’t just isolate it to the mass shootings.”
Under current federal law, people can lose their guns, or be barred from buying guns, over misdemeanor domestic violence. But the law doesn’t cover every type of relationship — it’s limited to current or former spouses, live-in partners or people with whom the perpetrator has a child.
Democrats in the House passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in April that expanded the law to cover more types of domestic abuse, including stalkers and current and former dating partners. As Klobuchar noted, the Senate has not brought it forward yet. The NRA opposes the expanded definition, arguing it’s too broad and could include nonviolent offenses.
Biden says he's astonished at Trump attacks
Earlier Wednesday, while addressing what moderator Craig Melvin called the "elephant in the room," Biden took a moment to talk about the allegations that President Donald Trump has been hurling against him and his son Hunter.
"It is way beyond anything that I, quite frankly, thought he would do," Biden said, speaking shortly after Trump called him "stone cold crooked" at a press conference with Finland's president.
"Nobody has ever asserted that I did anything wrong except he and what's that fella's name? Rudy 'Hudy' or whatever his name — Guiliani, that's it," Biden quipped.
He also took aim at Trump's inaction on guns after he'd vowed to make changes, including tougher background checks.
"I want to talk about guns and what this guy has done with regard to lack of doing anything rational relating to guns," Biden said. "I know he did have time for one meeting, [National Rifle Association head] Wayne LaPierre spent some time with him in return, I suspect, for help in his impeachment proceeding, but as my mother would say, good luck, Mr. President."
The New York Times reported last week that Trump and LaPierre met at the White House on Friday and discussed gun measures and whether the NRA "could provide support for the president as he faces impeachment and a more difficult re-election campaign."
Beto O’Rourke: Buttigieg ‘afraid of doing the right thing’ on assault weapon buybacks; jabs Booker on licensing
Beto O’Rourke defended himself from criticism by Democrats that his call for a mandatory buyback of assault weapons is making it harder to build support for gun reform, throwing a pointed jab at South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in particular.
“I heard some of the comments made today on his stage, those who are worried about the polls and want to triangulate or talk to the consultants or listen to the focus groups — and I'm thinking about Mayor Pete on this one, who I think probably wants to get to the right place, but is afraid of doing the right thing right now,” O’Rourke said. “To those who need a weatherman, let me tell you that in this country, mandatory buybacks are supported by a majority of Americans.”
Earlier at the forum, Buttigieg said mandatory buyback proposals were a “shiny object” that distracted Democrats from progress on more established policies like red flag laws and universal background checks.
O’Rourke also responded to comments from Sen. Cory Booker, who had noted that O’Rourke criticized his plan for gun licensing only to adopt a similar one after the El Paso shooting.
“I will say this: I want to give Senator Booker all the credit in the world for being a leader on this,” he said. “This is not a moment to seek division.”
But O’Rourke also noted that it’s “a really good thing” that Booker endorsed calls for a mandatory buyback of assault weapons after O’Rourke had backed the idea.