Presidential candidate and California Rep. Eric Swalwell speaks to Darchel Mohler, a Las Vegas mother whose 13-year-old daughter died from an accidental shooting by an unsecured gun. (Photo by April Corbin)
Flanked by survivors of gun violence, Democratic presidential candidate Eric Swalwell pitched his vision for national gun reform, saying he supports licensing, registries and a government buyback program.
Swalwell, a U.S. congressman who represents part of the Bay Area in Northern California, has made ending gun violence the flagship issue of his 2020 presidential campaign. He plans to release a formal policy proposal later this month, but on Wednesday he brought his “listening tour” to a Las Vegas mosque with local survivors of gun violence and reform activists.
“Thirty-thousand people a year to a firearm is no way for the wealthiest, most generous country to live,” he said, referring to estimates of the number of Americans who die by gun violence.
Participants of the gun violence discussion included Darchel Mohler, a Las Vegas mother whose 13-year-old daughter died from an accidental shooting by an unsecured gun; Clark County School District board Trustee Linda Cavazos, a family therapist whose younger brother died via suicide by gun; and state Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who survived the 1 October mass shooting and sponsored gun control legislation during this year’s legislative session.
The 2019 Legislature fast-tracked an expanded background check bill, with Gov. Steve Sisolak signing it into law in February. Later in the session, lawmakers passed additional bills to ban bump stocks, establish gun storage requirements, and allow courts to order the removal of guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others.
Swalwell acknowledged that people can too easily thwart stricter gun laws in their home state by visiting a nearby state with looser restrictions. He thanked Nevada lawmakers for their efforts.
“You’ve protected Californians, Arizonans. You are only as safe as the states around you … We need universal background check laws across the country.”
Swalwell said he supports a ban on assault weapons and mandatory gun licensing — both positions are common among the pool of Democratic presidential candidates. He also advocates for the creation of a government gun buyback program and the removal of existing protections prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
That demand for accountability could further extend to individual gun owners.
“One issue we’ll take on is whether there should be an insurance element,” he told the crowd. “If someone is negligent. We should look at it as a requirement.”
After outlining his platform on gun control, Swalwell took questions from the crowd of a few dozen community members. The toughest of them came from a black veteran whose son was shot and killed by a police officer in California. She wanted to know whether as president Swalwell would bring any accountability to police officers who commit acts of violence, particularly against communities of color.
“I want someone to stop killing us,” she added pointedly.
Swalwell is the son of a police officer and brother of two police officers. He said he worries about his brothers’ safety everyday but acknowledged that black families have similar anxieties whenever their loved ones go to school or work.
He referenced the shooting of unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a police officer at a BART station on New Year’s Day 2009. Swalwell noted he was working as a prosecutor for the Alameda County district attorney’s office at the time, and saw the community impact that high-profile case had. (That police officer was tried and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He served one year. Such an outcome is an exception rather than a rule in California and across the country.)
Swalwell added that the problem “cannot be reversed overnight” but that steps that “move us in the right direction” can be taken. He said that includes not signing off on law enforcement grants unless the police force proportionally reflects the communities they serve and embraces the use of body cameras to provide public accountability. He stressed implicit bias and deescalation training, as well as a need to move away from patrol officers that only interact with people when a crime has been committed (or is suspected) and toward community beat officers who get to know their neighborhoods deeply.
“I want every black parent to feel safe,” he added.
In a crowded pack of approximately two dozen Democrats, Swalwell is running solidly in the back of the pack. He is one of 20 candidates who qualified for the first national debate later this month, but according to an analysis by Politico he is one of six who qualified only by receiving at least 1 percent in polls. The 14 others have doubly-qualified by both receiving at least 1 percent in qualified polls and securing donations from 65,000 supporters.
A poll released Wednesday of likely Nevada caucus participants had Swalwell polling at less than 1 percent.
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