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Democratic presidential candidates reaffirm support for gun control

Said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, "You can pass a

Said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, "You can pass a red flag law, but it's insufficient. What we really need to do is also pass a ban on assault weapons, particularly the military style weapons that have resulted in people losing their lives within seconds." Credit: AP / Charlie Neibergall

Democratic presidential hopefuls, in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings, reaffirmed Sunday their calls for new gun control legislation and cast President Donald Trump’s support for so-called “red flag laws” as falling short of more sweeping measures.

“I think you can pass a red flag law, but it’s insufficient. What we really need to do is also pass a ban on assault weapons, particularly the military style weapons that have resulted in people losing their lives within seconds,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Gillibrand was among a half-dozen Democratic presidential candidates appearing on the Sunday political talk shows, a week after 31 people were killed in separate shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

The candidates repeated their calls for stricter background check laws, while also laying blame on Trump for the shooting at an El Paso Walmart. The shooter told authorities he specifically targeted “Mexicans,” law enforcement officials in El Paso said. Democrats argued that Trump’s past rhetoric, including his labeling of Mexican immigrants as criminals, incited the shooter, a contention the president and his allies have denied.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has supported creating a national gun licensing program, told ABC’s “This Week” that “presidential leadership” would compel Congress to pass sweeping gun control reforms.

“I hear a lot of the pundits say that if Donald Trump actually took responsibility for this moment, and stepped forward and said this is something we should do, that it would move [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and a lot of other folks,” Booker said. “We need a president that’s willing to drive forward on this issue and hold people accountable.”

On Friday, before departing for a weeklong stay at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, Trump told reporters “we need intelligent background checks” and he voiced support for “red-flag laws” that would allow authorities to seize guns from those deemed mentally unfit.

Democrats have been calling on McConnell to reconvene the Senate from its monthlong recess to take on the issue of gun control. The Kentucky Republican essentially shot down the prospect of returning before September in a radio interview last week, in which he promised that legislation for background checks and red-flag laws would be “front and center” when Congress returns from its break.

Booker said lives are being threatened “because this president whips up hatred,” a sentiment echoed by other 2020 contenders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), also appearing on “Face the Nation,” said Trump’s rhetoric contributed to a “climate” of hate and divisiveness before adding that the president ultimately didn’t want anyone shot because of his words.

“I think that what [Trump] has created in this country with his incredible rhetoric, his racist rhetoric where he calls Mexicans rapists and criminals … he creates a climate where we are seeing a significant increase in hate crimes in this country,” Sanders said. “He is creating the kind of divisiveness in this nation that is the last thing that we should be doing. He creates the climate, but do I think that he wants to see somebody get shot? Absolutely not.”

Sanders said he supports a full assault weapons ban and argued that national polls show a growing number of Americans backing stricter background checks. Sanders said passage of such reforms has been impeded by the National Rifle Association’s powerful gun lobby.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” accused Trump of waging a “campaign of terror” against minorities with his rhetoric and policies.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” criticized Trump’s visit to El Paso to meet with first responders and shooting victims. O’Rourke noted that none of the victims at two hospitals treating survivors wanted to meet with the president, according to officials at those facilities.

“They understand that he’s part of the problem,” O’Rourke said of the victims. “His constant warnings of invasion and infestation, his description of El Paso as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States … though we are one of, if not the safest cities in the United States of America … helped to cause somebody to drive more than 600 miles to kill people in this community.”

O’Rourke told CNN he supports requiring a national license for gun owners.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, another Democratic hopeful, called for a boycott of Walmart – the retailer with a store where the El Paso shooting took place – to make them stop selling guns. He said Walmart is “part of the problem” by making firearms “too easily” available.

“We’re not going to sacrifice human lives for bottom lines,” de Blasio told reporters at the Iowa State Fair.

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who this week led a caravan of gun-control activists to McConnell’s home state to call on the majority leader to reconvene Congress, said the Senate should pass a pair of background check measures approved by House Democrats in February that would increase the time for a background check from the current three days to 10. The legislation would also require background checks on all gun purchases, even those between individuals.

Ryan said Trump “hasn’t done a good job at all of setting a tone of bringing people together.”

Trump’s allies came to the president’s defense on both his handling of race relations and his response to the mass shootings.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who survived a premeditated shooting at a congressional baseball game in 2017, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that to “try to assign blame to somebody else I think is a very slippery slope.”

“I know they’re running for president, and they might not like Donald Trump’s views,” Scalise said, “but stop this, this ridiculous assessment of blame to somebody other than the person who’s responsible.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Fox News Sunday” she believed lawmakers could reach bipartisan consensus on background check legislation, specifically citing the public outcry over the Dayton shooter being able to obtain a gun legally despite previously being suspended from his high school for putting together a hit list of students to kill and rape.

“So, most people look at that, right, left, and center and apolitical, look at that, and say, ‘how can this happen?’ ” Conway said.

-- With Rachelle Blidner 

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