Top Democratic candidates come together for an ad on gun violence
Posted September 9, 2019 8:00 a.m. EDT
CNN — Several top Democratic presidential candidates came together ahead of Thursday's presidential debate to support former Rep. Gabby Giffords' political organization and deliver a message on guns: Our children deserve better.
In a powerful video titled "Our Kids Deserve to be Safe at School," eight candidates speak about the need to pass stricter gun laws to prevent mass shootings in schools. The video, the first in a series produced by Giffords' Courage to Fight Gun Violence, will be part of a six-figure digital ad buy targeted toward Houston around this week's third Democratic debate.
While Democratic candidates have some differences on how to combat gun violence, the video stands out because of the candidates' unified message on the issue in the midst of an increasingly contentious primary. Cast against a gray slate and edited to make it appear that the candidates are finishing each other's sentences, the candidates uniformly tout the need for stricter gun laws to protect children.
"We can continue with the corrupt leadership of Donald Trump, who has taken millions from the NRA while opposing gun safety policies, or we can forge a new path and elect a gun-safety president who's willing to stand up to the gun lobby and protect our kids and communities from gun violence," Giffords said in a statement to CNN. "This campaign will give Americans a closer look at just how committed the candidates running against Trump are in the fight to save lives."
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden all participated in the video. An aide for Giffords' organization tells CNN that all the candidates were invited to participate.
"Gun violence is literally life and death," Warren says to open the video.
"It has become so numbingly common," O'Rourke continues.
Buttigieg adds, "That we have kids going to school wondering if they're going to be physically safe."
"Learning about how to duck, cover, hide," Booker says.
"For fear that there is a mass shooter roaming the hallways of their school," Harris continues.
Klobuchar says, "That's wrong, that shouldn't happen in a country like ours."
"That's a tragic reality that exists today," Sanders adds.
"And it's deep, it's serious. And it's wrong, what's going on," Biden says.
The video continues with each candidate finishing each other's sentences until Warren concludes the spot.
"This will be a moment of determination," she says. "Determination to change."
Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords' group, which was founded by the former congresswoman and her husband Mark Kelly to fight gun violence, said the video was conceived because the group wanted to "get a sense from the candidates about how passionate they are, why they think it's so important" to combat gun violence.
"We wanted to display and send a message ... that there's a lot of consensus that this country needs to take bold action to stem gun violence," Ambler said, which makes the issue stand in contrast to health care and climate change. "And we had a theory that we could convey that and create, not just a powerful message the American people, but a core contrast with Donald Trump by putting them on video, recording their messages and mashing them together."
Ambler said the videos were, in part, Giffords' idea after the former congresswoman, who was nearly killed when she was shot in 2011 during a meeting she was hosting with constituents, met with several of the candidates at different points over the last few months.
The group plans to release more videos focused on different aspects of the gun debate, along with full videos of the interviews with each candidate.
Leading up to the 2020 campaign, Democrats in recent years had moderated themselves on guns out of fear of alienating significant parts of the American electorate. But changing sentiments on gun control, particularly in the wake of several recent mass shootings, have allowed politicians to be less cautious in their language and policy proposals.
A Marist survey in July found 83% of Democrats -- and 57% of all registered voters -- said it was a "good idea" to ban the sale of semi-automatic assaults weapons like the AK-47 and AR-15. The same poll found that 86% of registered voters -- including 96% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans -- support background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales.
In perhaps the clearest sign of how Democratic candidates are speaking more boldly about the issue, O'Rourke said on CNN that the inaction on guns was "f***ed up" earlier this month after a rampage in West Texas left seven people dead.
"It wasn't long ago that Democrats were divided on the gun safety issue and that the politics were considered too tough, that the NRA was considered too powerful," Ambler said. "In a relatively short period of time, it has gone from a third rail to a kitchen table issue."