Gun violence prevention found the spotlight like never before at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. It’s the latest sign that what was once considered a controversial, third-rail topic has become a core issue for the Democratic Party.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden is seen as a centrist, and this year’s DNC was clearly designed at least in part to woo Republicans disenchanted with President Donald Trump.
But after two days of featuring speeches from GOP mainstays like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Cindy McCain — the widow of Republican Sen. John McCain — Wednesday night’s policy-heavy primetime programming featured 10 minutes of pre-recorded video and speeches touting the importance of gun violence prevention.
Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, who has become a prominent organizer of March For Our Lives, narrated a video with footage from the sites of prominent mass shootings in Las Vegas, El Paso, and Newtown. DeAndra Dycus, an activist with Moms Demand Action whose son was paralyzed by a stray bullet in Indianapolis at age 13, spoke in a pre-recorded message: “I want a president who will make gun violence a priority and I believe Joe Biden is that person.”
And Gabrielle Giffords, the former U.S. representative from Arizona who was shot in 2011 and later founded the gun control group now known as Giffords, delivered a stirring video speech about her recovery.
“We are at a crossroads,” Giffords said in the video message. “We can let the shootings continue, or we can act. We can protect our families, our future. We can vote. We can be on the right side of history. We must elect Joe Biden. He was there for me, he’ll be there for you too.”
In his speech accepting the nomination, Biden barely mentioned guns — though the pre-recorded videos included some of his established pro-gun control one-liners, including the one where he took on the NRA twice — and won. He instead touted his vice presidential pick, California Sen. Kamala Harris, as someone who has battled the “gun lobby.”
Like many of the Democrats who competed for the 2020 nomination, Biden and Harris have a history of calling for stricter gun regulation. But as vice president, Biden had a front row seat as President Barack Obama’s efforts to enact regulations failed.
The prime place for voices like Giffords’, Gonzalez’s and Dycus’ is a stark contrast to past Democratic conventions. The Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine ticket campaigned on new gun regulations in 2016, but in her nomination acceptance speech Clinton made sure to stress that she was “not here to take away your guns.” Biden, however, says his administration would place restrictions on so-called assault weapons and institute a buyback program.
Republicans have successfully used the spectre of gun regulations to rile up their base in the past. In 1994, Democrats passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was one of the issues credited for galvanizing the Republican support necessary to retake control over the U.S. House. In 2019, 64% percent of Americans said “the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict,” according to Gallup, compared to 47% in 2015.
Though at times he has appeared willing to support an expansion of gun background checks, Trump has campaigned this year as a champion of gun rights. So expect to hear more about gun regulations at the Republican National Convention.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.