(CN) – As the field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination converged in Las Vegas two years and one day after the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, a consensus emerged that the majority of the American public crave common-sense gun control measures.
“I can say now we are stronger as a movement than the gun lobby,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who recalled his disappointment when the background check legislation failed in the U.S. Senate in the immediate wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
Murphy helped kickoff the Gun Safety Forum 2020 in Las Vegas, which featured nine presidential candidates. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders canceled at the last minute after being hospitalized with a heart condition late Tuesday.
All nine presidential candidates made impassioned calls for immediate solutions to help tame gun violence in the United States, an issue they universally characterized as a public health epidemic.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said the push for gun control measures such as universal background checks, assault weapons bans and prohibition of high capacity magazines is a reflection that the Democratic Party “is no longer in a defensive crouch on this issue.”
“You can feel there is something happening with the power dynamics that have had a stranglehold on Washington for a very long time,” Buttigieg said during a press conference following his appearance at the forum.
Former Vice President Joe Biden agreed that the time is ripe.
“This has gone from a cause to a movement,” said Biden, the front-runner for the nomination according to the latest polls.
Coinciding with his appearance in Vegas, Biden released his plan for curtailing gun violence which include background checks and federal safety storage laws. But Biden’s plan stops short of calling for federal registration of assault weapons or buyback programs – aspects favored by the progressive wing of his party.
“We need to focus on the practical things you can get done,” Biden said. “We don’t need to hold things up and get into false fights when there are serious things we can get done quickly.”
Biden’s posture continues to tack to middle while many others in the field are running to the left.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke both touted a federal registry of assault weapons and mandatory buybacks as a contrast to the more moderate tack represented by Buttigieg and Biden.
“For those of you who need a weatherman, the majority of the American people are with us on the issue of mandatory buybacks,” O’Rourke said.
“Are you just going to wait until hell’s lottery comes to your community?” Booker said. “Are you going to be a leader on this issue?”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has developed a routine on the campaign as being the candidate who has a plan for every issue. But rather than use the event to burnish her policy chops, Warren used most of her time to talk about corruption and the National Rifle Association.
“Ninety-three percent of the American public want to see reasonable background checks, including the majority of gun owners,” Warren said. “Why isn’t it happening? It’s because there is too much power in the hands of the gun industry and its lobby and we have to fight them.”
Warren also favors ending liability protections for gun manufacturers immunizing them from certain types of lawsuits stemming from mass shootings, as does Biden.
Meanwhile, Warren, Biden and others scoffed at President Donald Trump’s claims Wednesday that the ongoing impeachment investigation is impeding legislative progress on all fronts including gun safety. The candidates said Trump’s cozy relationship with the NRA remains the largest impediment to common-sense gun control regulations.
“There is no possibility as long as a guy named Trump is president to get something done,” Biden said.
But all candidates said those working to impede progress on gun control are working against common sense and the American public, making such measures largely a matter of when, not if.
As Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have shown little appetite to take up gun control measures – even ones with wide popularity such as universal background checks – that “when” does not figure to occur until 2020 at the earliest.
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