In debates, candidates must address gun violence in all its forms

In debates, candidates must address gun violence in all its forms
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It’s debate week in America. Today and tomorrow, 20 Democratic hopefuls will take the stage to discuss the most pressing issues we face as a nation. There are a handful of topics that the American people should expect each of the candidates to address. One of them is gun violence — after all, in 2017, gun violence claimed nearly 40,000 American lives .

But we shouldn’t just expect the Democratic candidates to talk about high-profile mass shootings. We should expect them to talk about the day-to-day gun violence that takes a tragic toll on the health of our communities. We should expect them to talk about what the majority of gun violence actually looks like in America. The Democratic presidential candidates who want to demonstrate true leadership on this issue should be prepared to discuss gun violence in all its forms — from its effect on communities of color to firearm suicide to domestic violence perpetrated with guns.

Communities of color are rarely mentioned when politicians talk about gun violence on a national stage. But tonight and tomorrow night, that needs to change. It is important for candidates to acknowledge that communities of color —  especially young black men  —  are disproportionately affected by gun violence. According to the CDC, non-Hispanic black men aged 15 to 34 are over 20 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, and firearm homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men. 


Though these deaths rarely make headlines, such violence leaves communities devastated and traumatized. To adequately address firearm violence in communities of color, the candidates must speak to policies and programs that address both firearm availability and the underlying socioeconomic factors that make violence more likely to occur in these communities — factors like poverty, inequality, and isolation

In addition to speaking about gun violence in impacted communities, candidates should take the opportunity to discuss firearm suicide — a public health crisis that does not receive as much attention as it should. Suicides comprise six out of ten gun deaths in the United States, and firearms are one of the most frequently used and most lethal method of suicide. 

Reducing access to firearms during suicidal crises can save lives. Candidates who are committed to preventing firearm suicide should endorse policies like extreme risk laws, which can prevent suicide by empowering family members to temporarily remove firearms from loved ones who are behaving dangerously. In doing so, candidates can demonstrate their commitment to preventing the majority of all gun deaths.

Finally, candidates should discuss their plans for addressing domestic violence — specifically domestic violence perpetrated with firearms. More than half of all women murdered in the United States are killed by an intimate partner with a gun, and the chance of being murdered by an abusive partner increases five-fold when there is a gun in the home. 

State and federal laws still make it far too easy for abusers to obtain firearms and keep the guns they already own, even when they are legally prohibited. The candidates need to articulate how we can strengthen domestic violence laws at both the state and federal levels and close loopholes that allow domestic abusers to keep their firearms.


These three aspects of gun violence prevention are not the only challenges our movement faces. They are not our only policy priorities. But gun violence in communities of color, firearm suicide, and domestic violence are commonly overlooked by politicians, despite how prevalent they are and how many lives they claim. And that oversight is a problem — especially for a group of people who are seeking the highest office in the land. 

We know the candidates running for the Democratic nomination have bold ideas. We know the field is historically diverse, progressive, and forward-thinking. Tonight and tomorrow, it is time for them to show us that their gun violence prevention platforms are equally dynamic.

Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.