It's understandable why many of those vying to win the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election are running with comprehensive gun-control policies — just look around at the recent news headlines. Candidates including Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris — as well as Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke, and others — have unveiled plans of varying degrees and specificity. And on Friday, August 9, former Secretary of Housing and Development Julián Castro unveiled a plan that would approach the issue from multiple angles. In doing so, it also underscores just how broken our current system is.
For decades, gun-control activists have pushed for lawmakers to pass and install meaningful laws at both the state and federal level to combat the threat of violence that looms over all of us; that need has only grown more pronounced as the years have gone on. Gun-related killings account for 73 percent of all homicides in the U.S.; last year alone, approximately 40,000 people in the country were killed as a result of gun violence. Statistics like those include those killed in mass shootings, like the white supremacist attack in El Paso, Texas, and the attack in Dayton, Ohio, on August 3, as well as the singular instances of gun violence that claims 100 people a day.
It's all too easy to recite the American scenes of mass murder — El Paso and Santa Fe, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Orlando and Parkland, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Gilroy and Poway, California; Newtown, Connecticut; and Aurora, Columbine, and Littleton, Colorado are just a start — yet many politicians have done little in the form of meaningful gun-control legislation. Sure, they've offered "thoughts and prayers," but for every gun-control measure proposed within our political system, there are just as many politicians ready to delay or deny the changes. Many of those lawmakers receive funding from lobbying groups like the NRA. Many choose to ignore the overwhelming majority of constituents who want stricter gun-control laws.
Plans like Castro's, then, could serve as an emblem of hope for a nation that is in a continued state of grief, and of fear that they could be next. "Common sense gun safety laws save lives," the candidate wrote in a post on Medium that also called out President Donald Trump for encouraging and espousing violent rhetoric. "We need universal background checks without NRA loopholes to keep guns out of the wrong hands. We need a renewed assault weapons ban and strict limits on high-capacity magazines to reduce gun fatalities. We should invest in a gun buyback program to decrease the number of guns on the streets. We need to institute Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws and invest in community-driven violence prevention programs. And yes, we need a federal licensing program to buy and own a gun that includes fingerprints, a law enforcement interview, and a gun safety course. These are smart, reasonable reforms that improve safety for everyone, including police officers."
The whole of Castro's People First Plan to Disarm Hate spans across a number of actionable steps to combat gun violence and white supremacist domestic terrorism — no small feat given that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists are responsible for the most instances of domestic terrorism since 9/11. The plan includes a promise to "invest in programs to combat hate and domestic terrorism" and more concretely fight the white supremacy and hate speech that proliferates and festers online.
"The United States is not the only country to confront white supremacist terrorism," Castro wrote in the plan, referring to both the attack on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as the 2011 attack in Oslo and Utoya, Norway as proof of the global proliferation of racist hate. "The incidents in Norway and New Zealand indicate a global challenge where extremists communicate and consume the same content online." Both those countries took meaningful action to ensure attacks like those never happened again. The U.S. hasn't.
Castro's plan also includes a breakdown of ten larger umbrella initiatives to combat gun violence more broadly, both on the mass and individual level. His plan would aim to close the Charleston, Private Sale, and Boyfriend loopholes that weaken background checks and undermine any false security granted by the American gun-buying process; ban assault weapons and reform laws about ammunitions and magazine capacity; and ensure funds so that the Center for Disease Control can study gun control like the public health crisis it is. He also wants to hold gun manufacturers accountable for their role in making increasingly deadly weapons, and provide support for people with suicidal ideation and those with mental illness who are more likely to be victims of gun violence than the perpetrators of it.
The sheer comprehensiveness of the plan is encouraging, but it is also a stark reminder of the task ahead of us. Fighting America's gun violence epidemic is going to take a lot of work, from a lot of angles, including domestic violence, police brutality, and the gun market that has driven so many people to our borders in an effort to escape violence.
It's also a reminder that guns are embedded into the framework of America, and undoing the damage inflicted by groups like the NRA and some of the oldest companies in the country will take a lot of legislation, and a concerted shift to elect lawmakers whose views on gun control are in line with the American majority, at every level of government. (That means city council, too.) Electing a president who advocates for gun control is one thing; ensuring they have the tools and the support to pass legislation that could have saved lives decades ago is the other part of the equation.