SUNRISE, Fla. (CN) – On the heels of announcing his plans for a presidential run, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California focused on gun-law reforms at a town hall in Florida on Tuesday night, saying lawmakers wary of the National Rifle Association have done little to nothing to curb gun violence despite “mass shooting after mass shooting.”
“Nothing happened, moments of silence followed by so many moments of inaction,” Representative Swalwell said, reiterating his support for an assault weapons ban and universal background checks.
The four-term California congressman was speaking in Sunrise, Fla., 15 miles away from the Parkland high school where a former student fatally shot 17 victims on Valentine’s Day last year.
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the Florida Legislature and then-Governor Rick Scott raised the legal age to purchase firearms in the state from 18 to 21 and enacted a so-called red flag law that established a new legal process to take guns away from those deemed by a court to be an imminent threat.
But federal lawmakers have been slow to act, Swalwell professed.
“Because of structural issues in our democracy, outside voices silence yours,” he told the crowd.
“I think we can have a country where you keep your pistols, keep your rifles, keep your shotguns, but we’re able to unite and take the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people,” Swalwell said.
The congressman chided the National Rifle Association for, as he sees it, stoking controversy over “common ground” gun-law reforms.
The NRA has been a vocal critic of Swalwell’s gun policies, calling his stance on banning assault weapons “radioactive.” The organization criticized the congressman for a 2018 USA Today opinion column in which he supported a confiscation of existing assault weapons in addition to a ban on future sales.
The op-ed reads: “We should ban possession of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons, we should buy back such weapons from all who choose to abide by the law, and we should criminally prosecute any who choose to defy it by keeping their weapons. The ban would not apply to law enforcement agencies or shooting clubs.”
Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, wrote in response that “there is obviously little ‘common ground’ that those who support the Second Amendment would have with any firearm-related legislation promoted by the congressman.”
Swalwell on Tuesday night asserted his commitment to an assault-weapon buyback program, but did not mention penalties for gun owners who refuse to comply. He is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1296, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, and H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would expand the federal background check system to cover gun sales at gun shows, over the internet and in classified ads, among other transactions.
The former Alameda County deputy district attorney said he is also committed to criminal justice reforms that would decrease prison terms for nonviolent drug offenders and increase penalties for defendants convicted of illegally possessing guns and other gun-related charges.
He told the crowd that, as a prosecutor, “I would see people get just a few weeks or a few months on a gun case, when those persons should be going away for a long time because of what they could do in the community. And too often we’re locking up people who are low-level drug offenders, when they needed treatment, and they didn’t need to be behind bars.”
Swalwell, who serves on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, has made gun control a central issue during his congressional tenure. He touted his focus on comprehensive gun law reform when he announced his plan to run for president on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Monday night.