In gun debate, some Democrats are letting politics turn too personal
Even before Saturday's mass shooting at a California synagogue added a new mind-numbing tragedy to the gun safety debate, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have been showing a historically high level of agreement about what needs to be done.
Yet, while that new unanimity leaves little for the candidates to debate on gun safety, some restless souls in the party's progressive wing have produced new litmus tests, not only about candidates' public positions on guns but their private ownership of firearms too.
An excellent example is offered by Sen. Kamala Harris, the first of the party's more than 20 announced candidates to stake out a major position on guns in the 2020 race. If she becomes president and Congress doesn't act within 100 days on gun safety, she said during a CNN town hall, she would sign an executive order to require background checks before every gun sale by anyone who sells five or more guns a year.
Background checks are often called a "common sense" reform, since polls show that most voters tend to like that proposal, even if the politically powerful National Rifle Association doesn't.
Among other reforms, the California senator's campaign said she would repeal a law that prevents victims from holding gunmakers and firearms dealers liable for their losses, reverse a Trump administration rule change that allows fugitives with arrest warrants to buy guns, and close the so-called boyfriend loophole that allows gun purchases by those convicted of domestic violence charges.
Yet, as much as the other candidates tend to agree, some progressive voices complain that she has not gone far enough, including in her personal life.
An op-ed published in Monday's USA Today kicked over a beehive of commenters in social media by arguing that Harris' ownership of a gun is a "disqualifying" issue for a Democratic presidential nominee.
The piece was written by Peter Funt, who is best known for hosting a revival of his late father Allen Funt's popular "Candid Camera" TV show. He lambastes gun ownership itself as a "position held by the NRA, not progressive Democrats."
Disqualifying? If that were true, Harris wouldn't be the only Democrat who would have to leave the field. Six of 18 Democratic presidential contenders who declared before former Vice President Joe Biden entered the race own firearms, a Washington Post survey reported earlier this month.
Biden would be another gun owner, according to his 2013 interview with Field & Stream magazine. Arguing against military-style weapons like the AR-15 used by some mass shooters, he said his shotgun was better for both hunting and defending one's home. A lot of his Democrats didn't like that response, but it sounded honest, a big virtue for Biden as he casts himself as the best person to lure Trump-voting Democrats back.