By Paul Steinhauser | Fox News
The horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left 31 people dead and dozens more injured have thrust the issue of gun violence into the center of the 2020 presidential campaign — with calls growing louder in the Democratic field for the return of an assault-weapons ban.
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Many in the record-setting field of two-dozen Democratic White House hopefuls already supported the ban, but the weekend tragedies have emboldened those calls as candidates highlight and in some cases build upon their gun control platforms.
Primary front-runner Joe Biden went so far Monday as to say he’s coming for those guns.
The former vice president, in a CNN interview, said that a Biden administration would push for a “national buyback program” to get such firearms “off the street.”
Asked what he’d say to gun owners worried that Biden would be coming for their guns, he quickly answered: “Bingo! You’re right, if you have an assault weapon.”
“The fact of the matter is [assault weapons] should be illegal. Period,” Biden said. “The Second Amendment doesn’t say you can’t restrict the kinds of weapons people can own. You can’t buy a bazooka. You can’t have a flame-thrower.”
Biden has long supported bans on assault weapons and firearms with high-capacity magazines, as well as universal background checks for gun purchases. As a senator from Delaware, Biden had a large role in crafting the 1994 assault-weapons ban.
The bill was quickly signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton after narrowly passing the Senate in a 52-48 vote. The law – which prohibited civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons as well as certain large-capacity ammunition magazines – expired in 2004. Attempts to reauthorize the ban over the past 15 years have been unsuccessful.
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Biden’s far from the only presidential candidate to renew the push for an assault-weapons ban in the wake of the weekend massacres.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday announced “an action plan to combat the threat of white nationalist terrorism, abetted by weak gun laws and the gun lobby.”
The alleged gunman in the El Paso shooting — a 21-year-old white supremacist — killed at least 22 people.
As part of his wide-ranging plan, Buttigieg is calling for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Buttigieg – a Naval Reserve veteran who served in the Afghanistan war – emphasized that “weapons like the one I carried in Afghanistan have no place on our streets or in our schools.”
“The same is true for high-capacity magazines, some of which can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition and significantly increase a shooter’s ability to injure and kill large numbers of people quickly without needing to reload,” he added.
Even before the weekend’s shootings, curbing gun violence was a central tenet in New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign — he’s calling for the federal licensing of all gun owners – and Sen. Kamala Harris of California repeatedly vowed if elected to take action on the issue in the first 100 days of her administration.
And gun violence’s a centerpiece to the White House bid by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who suspended his campaign to return to his hometown of El Paso.
In this summer’s primary debates, the candidates have highlighted a list of proposals they’ve pledged to enact – from banning assault weapons and restrictions on magazine capacities to universal background checks and laws to prevent those with a history of domestic violence or mental illness from purchasing weapons.
But it remains unclear what measures the current Congress might be willing to consider. Some lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, have backed calls for “red-flag laws” to take firearms from those deemed a risk to public safety, after President Trump endorsed the measures on Monday.
But Trump focused largely on mental health, while saying: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
An assault-weapons ban is a far more sweeping measure that, at this stage, has little support from Republican lawmakers.
The dialogue in the 2020 race comes as amid a spate of mass shootings already this year. The escalating debate among the candidates marks the first time in almost a generation that Democratic presidential candidates are heavily emphasizing gun violence on the campaign trail.
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Then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Gov. George W. Bush battled over the issue in the 2000 election, one year after the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The two candidates clashed, among other things, over moves to prevent cities from suing gun manufacturers.
But four years later, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts didn’t make gun control a major focus of his campaign. Neither did President Barack Obama in his 2008 election and 2012 re-election. And while Hillary Clinton supported tightening gun laws, she didn’t spotlight her stance as the Democrats 2016 presidential nominee.
But after dozens of high-profile incidents in recent years – from the Orlando, Florida nightclub mass shooting in 2016 where 49 were killed, to the Las Vegas concert massacre that left 58 dead and the Parkland mass shooting where 17 students and faculty were killed – tackling gun violence has become a top policy for Democratic congressional and presidential candidates.
Gun violence was the second most pressing issue facing the country, according to a Fox News poll conducted in May. Seventy-one percent of registered voters said gun violence is a major problem that needed attention from the government, trailing only the opioid addiction epidemic. Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.