Few issues have dominated Colorado politics in the last decade as much as gun regulation — an issue colored by residents’ collective memory of mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater, Chuck E Cheese restaurant and Columbine High School, among others.
The 2020 Democratic presidential race also has fixed on the issue and its resonance in Colorado. To gain currency, several candidates have trekked to Aurora during the campaign to spotlight their arguments for more gun control.
Among the eight remaining major candidates for the Democratic nomination, there is a lot of overlap in positions. And all argue that President Donald Trump, a Republican and vocal supporter of gun rights, has not done enough to address gun violence in the wake of high-profile mass shootings.
Trump has pursued policies supported by both the left and the right, often with muddled messages. He drew praise from gun safety advocates for a 2019 administrative rule that banned possession of bump stocks, devices that allow the continuous firing of a semiautomatic rifle. And successful prosecutions of federal firearms laws have increased under his presidency. But while Trump has at times voiced support for strengthening the background checks system, he retreated to more modest changes under pressure from the National Rifle Association.
Trump has not supported the reinstatement of a long-lapsed ban on assault weapons. He has voiced support for arming teachers.
The Democratic candidates want to reverse several policies advanced by Republicans and Trump that favor gun rights. Several have offered more expansive plans aimed at stemming gun violence and cracking down on the gun industry, with proposals intended to make it more difficult for people with bad intentions to get hold of high-powered firearms.
Ahead of Colorado’s March 3 primary here is a look at where the candidates are staking their positions on gun control.
Still in the race are former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Assault weapons ban and background checks
Proposals to reinstate a long-lapsed ban on high-powered, assault-style weapons — including semiautomatic rifles — and on high-capacity magazines draw support from all of the major candidates.
- None of them support mandatory buyback programs for assault weapons to collect them following the passage of a ban.
- Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer and Warren support voluntary buybacks for assault weapons under a ban.
- All of them support the expansion of federal background checks on gun purchases to cover most sales, including at gun shows and over the internet.
Gun licensing and registration
Several states require licensing of gun owners or registration of individual firearms. Some candidates want to enact federal requirements:
- Buttigieg, Bloomberg and Warren support the creation of a federal licensing program for gun owners.
- Steyer supports licensing and training for new purchases only, with licensing voluntary for owners of old guns. Sanders supports licensing for owners of assault weapons.
- Klobuchar has said she supports the idea of licensing but hasn’t decided which types of guns it would cover.
- Biden would encourage states to adopt gun-licensing programs.
- Warren supports registration requirements for all guns.
- Biden, Bloomberg, Steyer and Sanders support a registration requirement for assault weapons.
Higher minimum age for gun purchases
Federal law allows licensed dealers to sell rifles and shotguns to buyers who are at least 18 and handguns to customers who are 21 or older. Several states have more restrictive minimum age requirements, and candidates have discussed tighter federal rules:
- Klobuchar, Warren and Steyer say the minimum age to buy a gun should be 21.
- Sanders and Bloomberg say the minimum age to buy a gun, with the exception of those intended for hunting, should be 21.
Liability immunity protection
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which effectively insulated the gun industry from liability lawsuits stemming from the use of guns to commit crimes. The candidates who support repealing that law or otherwise making the industry liable in civil lawsuits are Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer and Warren. Gabbard has not commented on the issue.
Extreme risk protection orders (“red flag” laws)
Colorado lawmakers approved a so-called “red flag” law last year that allows a judge to temporarily order the seizure of guns from people who present a danger to themselves or others. Candidates have discussed the possibility of a federal law:
- Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, Steyer and Bloomberg support a federal red-flag law.
- Biden says more incentives for states to enact such laws should be provided.
- Gabbard’s position is unclear.