As the nation once again grappled with the tragedy and shock of another workplace shooting rampage, the 2020 Democratic candidates decried the failure of Congress to move gun control legislation — calling for immediate action to keep Americans safe.
Campaigning in South Carolina after a private visit Friday to the site of the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, California Sen. Kamala Harris renewed her call for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.
“We’re not waiting for another tragedy to figure out that we need smart gun safety laws because we’ve seen every tragedy that we can imagine,” Harris told a packed gymnasium of voters on Friday night in North Charleston. “We’ve seen assault weapons kill babies and police officers. There’s no need for assault weapons in a civil society. We don’t need them. Let’s ban them. These are reasonable, good ideas.”
Harris also called for closing the so-called “Charleston Loophole” by giving law enforcement more time to run background checks. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation co-sponsored by South Carolina Reps. James E. Clyburn and Joe Cunningham that would give the FBI more time to investigate the background of gun buyers to prevent those with certain mental health or criminal convictions from obtaining a gun.
Under current law, the FBI must complete background checks in three days or else the sale is cleared; the legislation would extend that period for 10 days. Advocates for the bill say it would have prevented Dylann Roof from obtaining the gun that he used to kill nine people who were worshipping at Emanuel AME in 2015.
At a Saturday event in Greenville, South Carolina, a voter pressed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, telling her lawmakers no longer seem to care about gun violence.
“I care and everybody in this room cares, and we are going to fight,” Warren said. “No child should be afraid to go to school. No child should be worried walking down the sidewalk or going to the playground or going to a movie theater, they could get shot.”
“We need to treat gun violence like the public health emergency that it is, and do real research about what works, what we could do to make this better, safer,” Warren said. “The NRA holds Congress hostage. And the only way that is going to change is if we get out there and say, ‘enough is enough, we’re not doing this anymore.’ So, I am ready to fight back against the NRA. Ready to fight for some change.”
In New Hampshire Saturday, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also engaged with a voter who asked her about gun safety laws, telling the audience that “we don’t pass gun reform in this country because of the NRA.”
“It’s not about the Second Amendment or hunter’s rights. Let me be really clear: It’s about the gun manufacturers that fund the NRA that want to sell more weapons,” Gillibrand said during a meet-and-greet in Keene, New Hampshire. “They don’t care that they’re selling a gun to a teenager, an assault rifle, a military assault rifle, to a teenager in Wal-Mart. They don’t care they’re selling a gun to a terrorist on a terror watch list. They don’t care that they’re selling a gun to someone who has grave mental illness and a violent record or someone with a criminal conviction or a violent crime. And that’s why they oppose universal background checks.”
She added that profit motivations are also a reason why gun manufacturers don’t want “a federal anti-trafficking law so guns can’t be trafficked into our communities just through bad gun dealers and people who want to sell guns to gang members.”
“That happens in my state all the time,” Gillibrand said. “They just don’t care. They just want to have those quarterly profits. And that’s not capitalism, actually, that’s called greed. So, let’s name it for what it is.”
Potential contender Beto O’Rourke also spoke out about the Aurora tragedy on Friday in an interview with CNN’s Leyla Santiago, calling the incident “a real tragedy for the families, for the community, for the coworkers there.”
“They’re in my thoughts, in our prayers, and also they’re going to be in the actions that we take going forward to make sure we do more to save more lives and do everything we can to support those families who have lost so much,” O’Rourke said.
The details are still emerging in the investigation of 45-year-old Gary Martin, who opened fire at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, Illinois on Friday (and was killed during the exchange of gunfire with police). Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said Martin was not permitted to own a gun because of a 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi.
Martin passed a background check that did not involve fingerprinting and obtained a gun in March of 2014. Authorities discovered the past conviction when he applied for a concealed carry permit, which was rejected. He was asked in a letter from Illinois State Police to surrender his gun, but it is unclear whether law enforcement followed up.
CNN’s Jasmine Wright, Megumi Aoyama, Donald Judd and Greg Clary contributed to this report.