2020 Vision: In the wake of Colorado school shooting, candidates talk about gun violence

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 269 days until the Iowa caucuses and 542 days until the 2020 presidential election.

[Who’s running for president? Click here for Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

The 2020 field reacted to the latest school shooting this week with tributes to the victim who died trying to protect his classmates and renewed calls for gun control.

The shooting at STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., killed one student and injured eight others. Two students are in custody.

Candidates paid tribute to Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old senior who died while trying to tackle the gunman.

“Kendrick Castillo will not collect his high school diploma this week because he gave his life trying to protect his classmates from another senseless act of violence in an American school yesterday,” wrote former Vice President Joe Biden. “My heart goes out to his family and all those affected by yesterday's shooting. We must remember Kendrick's name and sacrifice. We must ensure his legacy lives in our shared commitment to stopping these tragedies. Children shouldn’t fear going to school, and parents shouldn't need to rely on the uncommon courage of an 18-year-old hero to keep their kids safe.”

An American flag was placed below the sign for the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., on May 9. (Photo: David Zalubowski/AP)

“Eighteen-year-old Kendrick Castillo was killed while defending his classmates,” wrote Sen. Kamala Harris. “He saved lives. Kendrick is a hero. But he shouldn't have had to be. Our children deserve better.”

Highlands Ranch was the second school shooting in a little over a week. On April 30, two students were killed and four more were injured after a gunman opened fire in a classroom at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

“It is a disgrace that kids today go to school fearful that they could be shot and killed,” wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders. “The American people agree: We must take immediate action to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country. Enough is enough!”

“Heartsick for the victims, their loved ones, and the Highlands Ranch community,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “How many more of our children’s schools must be torn apart by gun violence until Congress does something? We need gun reform. Now.”

“We have to solve the mass shooting epidemic,” said South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “We — especially our students — should all feel safe in our communities. I’m praying for the students and families from STEM School Highlands Ranch, and will not rest until we deliver common-sense gun reform.”

Colorado senator and presidential hopeful Michael Bennet speaks at a candlelight vigil on May 8 for the one student killed and eight who were injured at the shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch. (Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Two candidates have made gun control a key part of their platforms. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California is running an essentially single-issue campaign on gun control, drawing support from survivors of last year’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Last month, Swalwell called for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons but said pistols, shotguns and long rifles would be exempted.

Sen. Cory Booker released an expansive gun-safety plan on Monday. The New Jersey senator’s plan included universal background checks, an assault weapons and high-capacity magazines ban and a federal gun licensing program that would require a gun-safety course before someone could purchase a firearm.

“Just as a driver’s license demonstrates a person’s eligibility and proficiency to drive a car, a gun license demonstrates that a person is eligible and can meet certain basic safety and training standards necessary to own a gun,” said Booker about the licensing plan, which would almost certainly face legal challenges on Second Amendment grounds were it to pass.

Students walked out of a vigil organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on Wednesday evening, stating that they wanted the vigil to be about Castillo and not politics. The rally was attended by Sen. Michael Bennet, who recently announced he was joining the presidential field.

“We are here to lift up the voices of victims and survivors,” a statement released by the Brady Center said Wednesday. “We are deeply sorry any part of this vigil did not provide the support, caring and sense of community we sought to foster and facilitate.”

While the National Rifle Association was a big spender in the 2016 election in support of Donald Trump and other Republican candidates, it has been facing financial hardships that stunted its work in the most recent midterms. In the run-up to the 2018 election, the spending of gun-safety groups outpaced the NRA’s expenditures as the organization dealt with an income decline of $55 million.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a forum on labor issues in Las Vegas on April 27. (Photo: AP/John Locher)

After Biden surge, Harris looks to reboot

With the rather large caveat that Democratic primary voters won’t even begin choosing a candidate until Iowans caucus on Feb. 3, former Vice President Joe Biden is still riding high from his official campaign launch. The national polling average has Biden winning more than 40 percent of Democrats, leading at least one rival campaign to rethink its strategy.

Sen. Kamala Harris had an impressive start to her campaign, raising big dollars and drawing 20,000 to a January launch rally in her hometown of Oakland, Calif. There also seemed to be a path for her both as a high-profile African-American woman running in a party in which African-American women are a key constituency and as a prominent office holder from California, whose primary is on March 3, much earlier than in recent election cycles. But Harris failed to break through. Her poll numbers peaked in the midteens and have slid into single digits in recent surveys.

Although she handled herself well in her sharp questioning of Attorney General William Barr at his hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee, her campaign has been hindered by her reluctance to take strong positions on issues important to progressives, including prisoner voting rights and slavery reparations, and by her indecisive approach to Medicare for All (she supported eliminating private insurance before walking it back).

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Harris campaign has decided the candidate needs to be more aggressive in attacking President Trump while also reaching out to criminal justice groups, who have been skeptical of her background as a prosecutor.

Warren has a plan for that

It was another week, so there’s another policy proposal from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who rolled out a plan to fight the nation’s opioid crisis. The $100 billion CARE Act would be funded by Warren’s wealth tax on the richest 75,000 families in America. According to the senator:

Here’s how it works. If you have more than $50 million, we’re going to ask you to pay a tax of 2 cents per dollar on every dollar after your fifty-millionth and first. It raises $2.75 trillion over the next ten years — enough to pay for my plans to cancel student loan debt and provide universal free college, fully fund universal childcare, and end the opioid epidemic. And guess what — we’d still have nearly a trillion dollars left over.

This week Warren received positive coverage from Time magazine, which placed her on the cover along with one of her campaign slogans, “I have a plan for that.” On the polling front, Warren placed a distant fourth in a Monmouth University survey of New Hampshire voters, behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, but there was some underlying good news: Warren was the leader when respondents were asked for their second choice, with Harris coming in second.

Other noteworthy results from the poll, which Biden led with 36 percent:

· 65 percent of respondents said they’d prefer a candidate who they disagreed with on most issues but could beat Trump versus 25 percent who said they’d take someone they agree with who would struggle to beat Trump.

· 41 percent said health care was one of the top issues in deciding who to support for the nomination. That answer lapped the field, with second place (honesty, integrity) getting 13 percent.

· 64 percent of respondents said a candidate supporting the Green New Deal was either very or somewhat important to them, with 79 percent saying the same of supporting Medicare for All. Just 38 percent said supporting the impeachment of Trump was important versus 54 percent who considered it not important.

"Looks to me like it’s going to be SleepyCreepy Joe over Crazy Bernie. Everyone else is fading fast!"

— President Trump on Twitter

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies at a budget hearing in Albany, N.Y., in February. (Photo: AP/Hans Pennink)

Why is Bill de Blasio considering a run?

Since the beginning of April, there has been a flood of white men entering the race: Biden, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and California Rep. Eric Swalwell. (Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced on April 17 he would not run.) Is there room for another candidate in an already record-setting field?

There are reports that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is leaning toward entering the race soon, even if those around him are questioning the idea. Yahoo News’ Hunter Walker wrote about it earlier this week:

As reports of an imminent de Blasio presidential announcement spread in recent days, Yahoo News spoke to over a dozen political leaders, experts and strategists in the Big Apple, including some who have worked for de Blasio. One word kept coming up in conversation after conversation about the mayor’s ambitions — “delusional.”

“I think the city is mostly baffled by this. He's been an average mayor at best,” the top Democratic operative said.

“I think this is one of the most delusional people who have ever inhabited City Hall and I seriously mean that,” said Gerson Borrero, a political commentator who has spent decades as a regular on multiple New York television and radio stations.

"Tell them you saw ... a top-tier presidential candidate on his way to the White House moments after his husband introduced him."

— Pete Buttigieg after being introduced by his husband, Chasten, to a sold-out fundraiser at a West Hollywood. Calif., gay bar

What’s on the mind of Iowans?

The Des Moines Register published the results of an interesting project on Thursday. The paper sent reporters to 46 candidate events across Iowa over the course of April and recorded 312 questions asked to 2020 hopefuls, resulting in a fun infographic you can explore on the Register’s website. What topics did Iowans want answers to in April? About 10 percent of the questions were about health care, with the candidates’ positions on climate change and environment second on voters’ minds.

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