Former Vice President Joe Biden is talking about the 1994 crime bill again, but this time around he’s not on the defensive.
Biden – often hammered over his lead role in drafting the Clinton-era legislation and its role in fueling a mass incarceration crisis – alluded on Monday to a lapsed provision of the law most Democrats want to see reinstated: a ban on so-called assault weapons.
Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper if he supported one, Biden reminded voters: “I was able to get one passed.”
The rapidly shifting politics of gun control have come into stark relief in the aftermath of a pair of mass shootings, a little more than 12 hours apart, this past weekend here in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio. The alleged gunmen killed at least 31 people, 22 of them in Texas, where a 21-year-old white nationalist is now in police custody.
This most recent spasm of gun violence has further emboldened 2020 Democratic primary candidates, many of whom were already offering ambitious gun control plans, to advocate for sweeping new legislation – and, failing that, executive action – to restrict some of the most deadly weapons available to Americans. In public statements and formal proposals and on campaign websites, the hopefuls have set out the kinds of aggressive agendas that might have been viewed as political poison even a few years ago.
Biden on Monday responded defiantly to the suggestion that some Republicans would say his administration would set out to take away people’s guns.
“Bingo,” he told CNN. “You’re right, if you have an assault weapon. The fact of the matter is they should be illegal. Period. 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 flamethrower.”
He stopped short of calling for enforced gun confiscations but pledged to implement a voluntary national buyback program.
Where the candidates stand
Less than 24 hours later, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a new proposal that tied together new gun laws – including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – and increased federal funding for research on gun violence. Another boldfaced part of the plan would dedicate $1 billion to combat violent extremism and radicalization taking place on social media forums like 8chan.
Buttigieg outlined a comprehensive package that would close a series of loopholes and implement universal background checks – a composite of positions that are held by nearly every major 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who left the campaign trail to return home to El Paso in the wake of Saturday’s shooting, has also advocated mandatory background checks. In calling for a ban on the sale of assault rifles, he said in Las Vegas on Saturday, minutes after learning of the shooting: “Keep that shit on the battlefield. Do not bring it into our communities.”
A day later, the tensions around Trump’s rhetoric and the shooting bubbled over. O’Rourke, asked by a reporter what the President could do to make things better, became emotional.
“What do you think? You know the s— he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the f—? Hold on a second. You know, I — it’s these questions that you know the answers to,” O’Rourke said.
“I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country. So, you know, I just — I don’t know what kind of question that is.”
In a “Pod Save America” podcast interview Monday, O’Rourke also said he is open to a mandatory gun buyback program similar to one in Australia.
“At the end of the day, if it’s going to save lives, if it’s going to prevent the kind of tragedies that we saw in El Paso, or Gilroy, or Dayton, or this weekend in Chicago, or all over this country on a daily basis, then let’s move forward and do it,” he said.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California has been among the most aggressive proponents of the new measures favored by the field. At a CNN town hall in April, she called out “supposed leaders in Washington” for their inaction.
“We need reasonable gun safety laws in this country, starting with universal background checks and a renewal of the assault weapon ban,” Harris said. “But (elected officials) have failed to have the courage to act.”
Her promise: “Upon being elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun safety