Democratic presidential contenders demand action on guns

By James Oliphant

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contenders urged Congress on Saturday to take action to curb gun violence in the wake of mass shootings last weekend in Texas and Ohio that left 31 dead.

Speaking at a hastily convened forum in Iowa, they called for the imposition of universal background checks on gun buyers, so-called “red flag” laws, and ultimately a ban on military-style assault weapons.

They also said they believed the long-standing debate on gun violence in America was shifting in favor of stronger restrictions.

“The heat’s been on like it’s never been on before,” said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

The candidates took questions from gun-control advocates and shooting survivors at a forum sponsored by Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the gunmen used semi-automatic weapons with high-volume magazines.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, called for those weapons to be taken off the streets.

“They have no basis in our neighborhoods in peacetime in the United States of America,” Buttigieg said.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said if she wins the White House she would use executive powers to impose increased background check requirements and more reporting on multiple gun purchases, and expand age restrictions to limit teenage access to guns.

Iowa is a key focus of campaigning because in February the state will hold the first nominating contest in the Democratic presidential primaries ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Many have called for measures such as an assault weapon ban, universal background checks and other gun control reforms long stymied by partisan fighting in Washington.

Democrats have criticized Republican President Donald Trump’s mixed messaging this week on possible support for some gun control measures.

Trump on Friday suggested that he could sway the nation’s powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, to drop its opposition to gun restrictions.

Klobuchar suggested Trump would not take on the group, however. “We have a guy in the White House who is afraid, afraid of the NRA,” she said.

She and others also criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, for refusing to bring a background check bill and other legislation to the floor for a vote.

“Red flag” laws would allow the police to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others.

At a Friday forum on raising teacher pay in Fort Dodge, Iowa, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, another presidential contender, said for children in school “half of their brains are worried about who might be entering the door at the back of the classroom in a way that might threaten their safety.”

Harris reiterated her plan to give Congress 100 days to send a gun control bill to her desk and if not, take executive action to establish a comprehensive background check system, revoke the licenses of dealers who violate the law and ban the importation of assault-style weapons.

“It is terrifying our children,” Harris said to applause. There are supposed leaders in Washington, D.C., who have failed to have the courage to act.”

(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker in Fort Dodge, Iowa; Writing by James Oliphant and Letitia Stein; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall)