2020 Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand suggested she supports a mandatory national buyback program for assault weapons and that she would be open to criminal prosecution for those who don’t sell back their firearms.
“I think we should ban assault weapons as well as large magazines. As part of passing that ban, do a buyback program across the country so that those who own them can be compensated for the money they spent,” Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from New York, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Wednesday.
Democrats have dropped the cautious rhetoric on gun control in the aftermath of a pair of mass shootings, a little more than 12 hours apart, in El Paso, Texas, and in Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month. But they have been split over whether a buyback program implemented by the federal government should be mandatory or voluntary.
Pressed on whether the program should be mandatory, Gillibrand replied, “You don’t want people to retain them because if you make them illegal, you don’t want to grandfather in all the assault weapons that are all across America.”
“You would like people to sell them back to the government, so that you can make sure people who shouldn’t have access to these weapons couldn’t have them,” Gillibrand added.
Asked if she would be supportive of criminally prosecuting those who don’t sell back their assault weapons, Gillibrand said, “The point is you don’t want people using assault weapons.”
“So the point is, if you are arrested for using an assault weapon, you’re going to have an aggravated felony,” she said. “The whole point is when you make it a crime to own an assault weapon, then if you are found using it, that would be the issue. So it would just be part of your law enforcement in terms of what you have access to.”
California Rep. Eric Swalwell, before dropping out of the 2020 Democratic primary last month, had based his campaign around addressing gun violence and pushed a mandatory buyback program, along with an assault weapons ban.
Like Gillibrand, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, whose hometown is El Paso, have signaled their support for a mandatory federal buyback program.
“Not only do we need to end the sale of assault weapons and weapons of war that were designed for the battlefield and have no place in our communities. We must as a country, buy those weapons, take them off the streets altogether,” O’Rourke said Thursday, after nearly two weeks away from the campaign trail in the wake of the El Paso shooting.
Booker told CNN in May that “we should have a law that bans these weapons and we should have a reasonable period in which people can turn in these weapons.” De Blasio told Politico that he supports a mandatory federal buyback program.
In August, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted that the federal government must “implement a buyback program to get assault weapons off the streets” -— without specifying whether it would be mandatory or voluntary.
The current Democratic frontrunner in the race, former Vice President Joe Biden, told CNN in a recent interview that he would implement a voluntary national buyback program.
In an interview Thursday with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who has taken a more moderate stance in the race for the Democratic nomination, said that making such a program mandatory “is going too far” and argued that it feeds the National Rifle Association’s “narrative for responsible gun owners that the federal government is going to come in and take away all of your guns.”
CNN’s Leyla Santiago and Eric Bradner contributed to this report.