Where They Stand: How the Democratic Candidates Say They Will Address Gun and Racial Violence

As we move through the primaries, Higher Heights for America is committed to providing Black women with the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls. Our recently launched Lunch and Learn series, Where They Stand: Our Voices, Our Issues, is designed to ensure that you know where each candidate stands on key issues affecting your life and community. Over the next few weeks, we are highlighting candidates’ responses to some of the most critical issues covered in our recent candidate questionnaire.

Higher Heights solicited Black women’s views and voting priorities in a survey taken at the beginning of the 2020 election season. We subsequently issued a candidate questionnaire that allowed the Democratic presidential contenders to tell us in their own words their plans for tackling these issues.

Addressing gun and racial violence were among the issues Black women identified as key voting issues. Even as hate crimes, mass shootings and urban gun violence are on the rise, a growing number of states are passing dangerous open carry laws and the federal government has refused to enact sensible background check legislation and other measures that would keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Meanwhile, religious and racial hate crimes are on the rise, and an antilynching bill 120 years in the making is making its way through Congress. Here in their own words is how each of the Democratic candidates say they would tackle these issues if elected.

Here are the questions posed to candidates and how they responded:

Joe Biden

What are your specific policy proposals on gun safety? Do you view gun violence as a public health issue?

Yes, gun violence is a public health epidemic. Almost 40,000 people die as a result of firearm injuries every year in the United States, and many more are wounded. I have taken on the NRA and won — twice. As president, I will defeat them again. I will hold gun manufacturers accountable, ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, regulate possession of existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act, and buy back the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines already in our communities.

I will require background checks for gun sales, close loopholes in the federal background check system, fund the background check system, end the online sale of firearms and ammunitions, and create an effective program to ensure that individuals who become prohibited from possessing firearms relinquish their weapons.

I will incentivize the adoption of state “extreme risk” laws (laws that enable family members or law enforcement officials to temporarily remove an individual’s access to firearms when that individual is in crisis and poses a danger to themselves or others). My administration will also enact legislation to give states and local governments grants to set up gun licensing programs.

I will tackle urban gun violence with evidence-based community interventions by dedicating the brightest scientific minds to solving the gun violence public health epidemic. Specifically, I will create a $900 million, eight-year initiative to fund evidence-based interventions in 40 cities across the country.

Will your administration recognize violence perpetrated by white supremacist hate groups as acts of domestic terrorism?

Yes. Hate has no safe harbor in America. Our country needs moral leadership and a unifying force, rather than a divisive one, to fight hatred and injustice. Extremism is on the rise in America. The statistics are clear. We have a problem in this country with the rising tide of white supremacy. We must condemn this hateful behavior, and not encourage and embolden it like Trump. I will work to ensure the FBI, DHS, and state and local law enforcement have the resources they need to counter white supremacist terrorists. We will build on the progress of the Obama-Biden Administration to support our state and local communities in this fight, and immediately restore the funding for initiatives we put in place to counter violent extremism at home. My administration will work with stakeholders in technology, mental health, education, and law enforcement.

Will your administration recognize violence perpetrated by white supremacist hate groups as acts of domestic terrorism?

We also need to get weapons of war off our streets and ban assault rifles and high- capacity magazines. I will close the “hate crime loophole” to prohibit an individual “convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime, or who has received an enhanced sentence for a misdemeanor because of hate or bias in its commission,” from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

And, we need to enact a federal domestic terrorism law. We can do it without infringing on people’s free speech and without trampling civil liberties.

Quite simply, we as a nation have to make the same commitment to rooting out domestic terrorism that we have to stopping international terrorism.


Bernie Sanders

What are your specific policy proposals on gun safety? Do you view gun violence as a public health issue?

Yes. We face an epidemic of gun violence in this country. A significant majority of Americans want common sense gun reform. But the NRA, now a full-fledged, right-wing political organization, spends millions on TV and internet ads attacking candidates who dare to stand up for what voters want.
As President, Bernie will:

Take on the NRA and its corrupting effect on Washington. The NRA has become a partisan  lobbying public-relations entity for gun manufacturers, and its influence must be stopped.

Enact universal background checks and end the gun show loophole.

Ban assault weapons, bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, and the 3-D
printing of firearms. For existing assault weapons, Bernie will institute strict licensing requirements for ownership – as President Reagan did with automatic assault weapons – along with a voluntary buyback program to get guns off the streets.

Furthermore, he supports grants to states to improve handgun licensing programs.

He will pass legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers, and “red flag” laws to allow for temporary removal of firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Will your administration recognize violence perpetrated by white supremacist hate groups as acts of domestic terrorism?

When we are in the White House, we will go to war with white nationalism.
When someone hurts someone else because of the color of their skin, and when someone kills someone else because of the color of their skin, this is not just a hate crime; it is also an act of domestic terrorism. As president, Bernie will throw the full force of the law against those people.