Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro took the stage Wednesday during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas, Nevada. The forum, presented by Giffords, March For Our Lives, and MSNBC, hosts nine major Democratic candidates to discuss what each presidential hopeful plans to do to reduce the epidemic of gun violence.
(Note: Sen. Bernie Sanders was scheduled to participate but is unable to, due to health issues.)
Secretary Castro was the second candidate to appear, following South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and received a standing ovation upon his entrance. He apologized for being a little sick before diving in with moderator Craig Melvin.
First, Castro was asked about his approach to regulating ammunition. Castro’s plan aims to double the excise tax on firearms and ammunition in order to fund community-based, gun violence prevention education; additionally, he hopes to track ammunition. When pushed on the latter plan, Castro explained that it’s a matter of markers on bullets, and will help make crime investigators’ jobs easier and make gun violence seem like a harder crime to get away with.
Castro shared memories of growing up in San Antonio and regularly hearing gunshots throughout his childhood. Melvin leapt on Castro’s home state and how he hoped to change its red-state gun culture. Castro cheerfully promised Texas won’t be red “for long” to cheers from the crowd, before noting that despite the state’s lax gun laws, the El Paso shooter still drove hundreds of miles to open fire on a Walmart with armed shoppers and security. The point? More guns don’t stop those who are determined to kill. Melvin then shifted to the Dayton, Ohio, shooting, and the rapid police response that took down that shooter. Castro nipped the false equivalency in the bud immediately, with a quick note of his opposition to arming teachers.
Castro then noted that at Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference after the Dayton massacre, people chanted “Do Something!” He reiterated that the nation as a whole believes that it’s far beyond time for lawmakers to do something.
Melvin then compared Castro’s voluntary buyback program to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s mandatory one. Castro asserted the he’s open to mandatory programs, but there are 15 other points of action to be taken, including an assault weapons ban.
Melvin tossed to Pam Bosley, a Chicago activist who lost her 18-year-old son to gun violence at a church. Citing Chicago’s 2019 gun statistics, Bosley focused on community-level violence prevention programs. Specifically, she asked what Castro did to tackle the issue while mayor of San Antonio.
Castro offered warm wishes for Bosley’s son, Terrell, before acknowledging that gun violence is so much more than the mass shootings that make headlines. He again described the gun violence he grew up with, and the impact it had on him.
After noting the need to disarm hate and limit who can obtain firearms, he got to Bosley’s question, passionately stating that programs must be “rooted in the community.” He cited the value of activity programs for teenagers and youth, which he invested in as mayor, and reiterated that his excise tax increase would fund them across the nation.
Melvin then shared a story about teaching first aid to urban youth so they can help their friends when they meet gun violence, before asking Castro about what can be done to support young people who witness gun violence. Castro noted that his plan strives to be intersectional, and spoke of his belief in community-based schools that provide mental health services for students.
Castro also paid homage to Laquan McDonald, reminding the crowd that police violence is also gun violence. As applause receded, he noted that his gun safety proposal includes police reform.
Next, a Native American activist from March For Our Lives continued that police thread by asking about the number of guns still held by citizens and police. Castro vowed to stop white nationalism before it festers into violence. After touching on assault weapon bans and background checks, the candidate took a breath and spoke about the need to change today’s kids’ early perceptions of violence.
Castro then touched on suicide, and the need for mental and physical healthcare for everyone. He didn’t really answer the M4OL leader’s question, but he did thank her for it.
Melvin then asked about gaming; he was careful not to name video games as the cause of video games. Castro admitted he worries about his children’s amount of screen time, but noted that Japan has the same games as the U.S. does, yet none of the gun violence. “Guns are the problem,” he finished, to applause.
Next, Melvin asked Castro “who gets to decide” if someone should get their guns taken away. Castro explained that it should start with the person who knows any given individual best—immediate family, friends, other loved ones. When asked if that’s a state-level responsibility, Castro paused significantly before saying it could be done at the federal level. Melvin asked about the pause, and Castro explained his thought process: Could he think of any reason any city or state would want a different standard? After running it through his head, Castro said he could not.
With a quick “¡Gracias!” Secretary Castro left the stage.
Castro, a native of Texas—a state earning an “F” on the Giffords Gun Safety Scorecard—unveiled his comprehensive gun safety plan shortly after August’s mass shooting in an El Paso Walmart.
A longtime advocate for gun reform going back to his time as mayor of San Antonio, Castro’s plan addresses the threat of white nationalism and seeks to provide education that fights radicalization; additionally, Castro supports universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, as well as restrictions on high-capacity magazines. He also supports a voluntary gun buyback program, and wants to close gun show loopholes.
Castro, 45, also seeks to double the excise tax on firearms and ammunition in order to fund community-based, gun violence prevention education, as well as fairly universal Democratic goals like reducing the “boyfriend” loophole and increasing mental health support to combat suicide, and repealing legislation that protects firearms manufacturers.
Up next, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Catch all of our recaps of Wednesday’s 2020 Gun Safety Forum!
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New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
California Sen. Kamala Harris