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Nevada Today

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In the Wake of Highlands Ranch Shooting, We Take a Closer Look at Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Gun Violence Prevention

Honest to goodness, I was already planning on writing this column today. But when I learned about yesterday’s school shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, I knew that we really need to talk about this (again).

As the gun violence epidemic rages on throughout the nation, policy advocates and community activists have been pushing to get the rest of the nation to pay attention, and then to actually do something about it. Most of the Democrats running to unseat President Donald Trump are promising to do something about it, and a couple of them now have actual plans detailing what they’ll do and how they’ll do it.

Yes, it can happen here. In fact, it continues to happen here.

Once upon a time, we believed “it couldn’t happen here”. No, our leafy, well-heeled suburbs are supposed to be safe. The FBI says so!

Yet while overall crime rates remain low in these kinds of suburbs, they’re not completely immune to the violent crime that affects and afflicts major cities and rural communities. We were reminded of this again when two students opened fire inside STEM School Highlands Ranch, a charter school that serves a suburban community in Colorado’s wealthiest county.

STEM School student Kendrick Castillo was killed while lunging at the shooter. Eight other students were injured in the attack. Brendan Bialy and a few other students helped prevent further casualties when they rushed to disarm one of the shooters. While their act of courage absolutely can and should be commended, we still must ask: Why is this becoming increasingly necessary in our schools, and what will we actually do about it?

So who’s promising to do what? First, here’s Kamala Harris’ plan.
Photo by Andrew Davey

At a CNN town hall in New Hampshire last month, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) said Washington “failed to have the courage to act” on gun violence and declared that no child should have to undergo active shooter preparation drills in school. The next day, Harris introduced her full plan for gun violence prevention that she will pursue during her first year in office if she wins this election.

If Congress sends Harris comprehensive gun safety legislation within their first 100 days in office, including universal background checks akin to HR 8, a renewed and updated assault weapons ban, and the repeal of the 2005 law that grants gun manufacturers legal immunity, she will sign it. If Congress doesn’t, Harris promises to take executive action to require anyone who sells five or more guns for profit annually to order background checks on such transactions, close the “boyfriend loophole” that allows some domestic violence offenders to keep their access to guns and ammunition, revoke the licenses of gun manufacturers who break the law regardless of whether they claim immunity under that 2005 statute, and reverse Trump’s February 2017 redefinition of “fugitive from justice” that allows people fleeing criminal arrest warrants to purchase firearms.

While Harris’ threat to use executive authority to make an end run around Congress if legislation doesn’t reach her desk within 100 days looks carries the risk of becoming a mirror image of Trump’s growing pattern of (ab)using executive power to undermine Congress and anyone else who stands in his way, it may be enough to scare enough members of Congress to actually act if she’s elected as the nation’s 46th President. And if Congress doesn’t act, Harris is essentially daring the (five Republican-appointed justices of the) U.S. Supreme Court to break its pattern of rubber-stamping Trump’s executive power grabs.

But wait, there’s more: Cory Booker has a plan, too.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Not to be outdone by Kamala Harris, fellow U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) has released his own plan of action for gun violence prevention this week. When he visited UNLV last month, Booker hinted at this when he spoke of how his own Newark neighborhood suffers from gun violence every day. Then on Monday, Booker made it official with his own detailed set of proposals.

Like Harris, Booker plans to push Congress to send a new assault weapons ban, background checks expansion, and repeal of gun manufacturers’ legal immunity to his desk. But while Harris focuses on what she will do if Congress doesn’t act on those proposals, Booker wants Congress to do something else: require a license to purchase and own guns.

Back in February, we discussed the potential shortcomings of background checks and wondered why many Democrats have shied away from policies like mandatory gun licensing to guarantee that these weapons stay out of the wrong hands. This week, Cory Booker breaks this pattern by proposing a nationwide permit-to-purchase system where applicants pay a fee, undergo a background check, submit additional records, do an interview, and undergo gun safety classes before obtaining a five-year license, akin to a standard driver’s license to operate a car, that can be revoked if the applicant later breaks the law or proves to be a danger to oneself and/or others.

What are the others saying (if they’re saying anything at all)?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Until Kamala Harris released her gun safety action plan, the only candidate who went into further detail was Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California), who wants an assault weapons ban that includes a mandatory buyback of such newly banned military-grade firearms. Otherwise, the rest of the Democratic pack have mostly stuck to the kinds of gun safety policies that Hillary Clinton advocated in 2016.

That doesn’t mean everyone else has been totally silent. While some candidates, such as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), tend not to say much about it in public, candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) have addressed gun violence on the campaign trail here in Nevada and elsewhere. And while campaigning here in Henderson yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden opened his speech with a call to action for gun violence prevention.

But as we’ve repeatedly seen over the years, whether on the Las Vegas Strip, in a South Florida high school, in a Connecticut elementary school, or in a suburban Colorado charter school, words can only do so much. Ultimately we need to see action, and we’ll have to keep watching the campaign trail to see when others offer action and determine how much of a difference these proposed actions will truly make.

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