Kamala Harris, Democratic senator from California, was the ninth and final candidate to participate in the 2020 Gun Safety Forum, hosted by Giffords, March For Our Lives, and MSNBC, in Las Vegas, Nevada. For clarity: Sen. Bernie Sanders was scheduled to participate in the event but was unable to, due to health issues.
Forum leaders include former Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Ariel Hobbs and David Hogg from March For Our Lives. MSNBC host Craig Melvin moderated the forum. Each candidate got about 25 minutes of talking time, including questions from Melvin and at least two questions from the audience.
After a hug with Andrew Yang, some Saturday Night Live-inspired jokes, and good-natured laughter all around, Melvin did ask Harris about Trump and impeachment.
To open, Melvin asked Harris specifically about “little black boys” who are 14 times more likely to die because of firearms compared to white boys.
“I have personally hugged more homicide victims mothers than I care to tell you,” she recalled from her time a as district attorney. Harris continued by sharing that the mother of a man killed by gun violence felt that she’d have more support if her child had died because of a car accident or cancer, because gun violence is seen as just a statistic.
“We have to value these lives,” she said in reference to black men. “That’s a big statement to make, frankly, because there are so many indicators that these lives are not being valued.”
“Be very clear: Poverty is trauma-inducing,” Harris said in talking about trauma in children and how it’s connected with violence and community.
Harris stressed the importance of supporting children early in their lives without being “paternalistic” and instead supporting families and communities as a whole, not coming in and (basically) playing the savior.
Harris also promised that if she were elected president, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would go immediately. Then she talked about how ridiculous the idea of arming teachers is.
“You know what teachers want?” she asked, to applause. “Teachers want a raise!”
Here’s a clip of that fantastic moment:
Speaking of education, Harris also got a big audience reaction when talking about trauma and children in school:
Her first audience question came from someone who is both a trauma surgeon and a survivor of gun violence. His question was about gun suicide, and you can watch it below:
Harris said that anyone who has been found by a court to be a danger of themselves or others should not be able to buy a firearm. She followed this up by stressing that the issue isn’t just about mental health; that if we “deal” with mental health, we don't also need smart gun safety laws. “We need to do both,” the senator stressed. Then she circled back to what she’s promised in her gun action plan, which is to give Congress 100 days to take action, and if she not, she’ll make changes by executive order.
Here, Melvin asked her the common sticking point with executive actions: What if the next president comes in and revokes them?
“Craig, I will deal with that eight years from now,” she said, meeting much applause.
The next audience question was about the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment.
Here’s a clip of her response, in part:
“You can respect the Second Amendment,” Harris said. “And still understand that, let’s be really clear about this, that an assault weapon was designed to kill a lot of human beings quickly … There is no legitimate reason or purpose for them to be on the streets of civil society. It’s a weapon of war. This is not in conflict with the Second Amendment.”
Harris then looped back to mental health and addressing gun reform as a public health issue. Then she described the Constitution as a “living document,” which is, of course, true.
Here, Melvin asked Harris what she would do about the millions of assault weapons currently on the street. Harris said she supports a mandatory buyback program.
The final audience question came from a 15-year-old black teenage girl from Los Angeles who, while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, asked Harris about police brutality and specific efforts to demilitarize the police. An incredible question, to be sure.
First, Harris stressed that there is “no question that we need to demilitarize the police department.” Harris explained that she chose her career path because she wanted to change the system from the inside, after seeing injustice every single day as a young black girl.
Going forward? Harris says she wants to “end mass incarceration,” including sentence reform and legalizing cannabis. She also wants to see accountability for law enforcement, including both police and prosecutors. Harris also promised to shut down for-profit prisons (that use federal tax dollars) on Day One as president. “It’s about shutting down and taking the profit out of the criminal justice system,” she stated.
Then Harris brought up Trump’s inhumane separation of families. But, to audience applause, she pointed out that the criminal justice system has also systemically separated families, and that we need the least harmful methods when it comes to criminal justice.
Though Harris was the very last candidate of the day, her responses were on point and the audience reacted to her with real enthusiasm.
Where did Harris stand on gun reform, prior to the debate? As mentioned tonight, she’s promised to give Congress 100 days to pass stronger laws, including assault weapon bans, universal background checks, and the end of special legal protections that exist to protect gun companies.
And if Congress, theoretically, didn’t act, she would take action with executive orders. In addition to the plans mentioned above, Harris wants to ban the import of certain weapons into the country and make it harder for people with criminal records to access weapons, which does include domestic violence cases. She’s also said she’s in favor of at least the idea of gun licensing.
Check out the rest of our coverage on the 2020 Gun Safety Forum: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren,Former Vice President Joe Biden, Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang.