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Democrats Talk Gun Control At Iowa State Fair


The Democratic presidential candidates are taking a staple of summer, the state fair - in Iowa, of course. The candidates are greeting voters at the livestock contests and the giant cow made of butter while also confronting serious issues. Today many of them will attend a forum on combating gun violence. And in an interview with NPR, Senator Elizabeth Warren is discussing her own gun policy. NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben is in Des Moines this morning.

Hi, Danielle.


PFEIFFER: So all through the weekend, candidates are parading through the fair. But last night, I understand, they were together to address Iowa Democratic activists. What did they have to say there?

KURTZLEBEN: Right. So this was the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding. It is an annual event up in Clear Lake, Iowa. It's a fundraiser for local Democratic Party organizations. And yeah, you had 22 candidates out there. Each candidate was talking, and they needed time. So each one got five minutes. You'll have to forgive me. It's a little noisy. I'm outside right now. (Laughter).


KURTZLEBEN: But the sense I got was, each candidate got five minutes, they are each pressed for time. So they stuck kind with their greatest hits, what they're good at. Bernie Sanders talked about inequality and health care. Biden talked about Trump's strategic use of race in politicking. Andrew Yang talked about the evolving American economy. Warren talked about her plans. So you had some recurring - but you had some recurring themes, as well. There was a lot of attacking Trump. And along with that, you had some of these more moderate and lesser-known candidates saying, listen, I'm more electable than some of these better-known, more progressive people, especially in a Midwestern purple state like Iowa.

So, you know, as far as new things that any of them might have heard last night, if you're an Iowa Democrat who follows the news closely, you might not have heard a lot that's new. But if you're like a lot of Americans and you're slowly being introduced to these roughly two dozen (laughter) people, you learned a lot.

PFEIFFER: These political gatherings are obviously coming when there's extremely raw emotion still about last weekend's two mass shootings.


PFEIFFER: How much is that issue, the issue of gun violence, present there?

KURTZLEBEN: It's very present. And, you know, Iowa, you have a lot of people who grew up with guns. I spoke to some people last night who own guns or have, you know, have shotguns, that sort of thing. And even - and they made it clear that being pro-gun control to them does not equal being anti-gun. And aside from that, it was a focus for quite a few of the candidates. This very much loomed over the event, with many of the candidates devoting a good chunk of their, again, quite short speeches to it.

Cory Booker was maybe the most notable on this. He really fired up the crowd. He dedicated his speech to gun control, and he was really trying to put it into a broader context, saying, this is a major moment in America. Here's what he said.


CORY BOOKER: This is not a referendum on one guy in one office. This is a referendum on us and who are we going to be to each other. This is one of those moral moments in our nation...


BOOKER: ...That's going to define the character of our country.

PFEIFFER: Elizabeth Warren unveiled her own gun plan this morning. What do we know about that so far?

KURTZLEBEN: Right. And having plans is her brand. She's one of multiple candidates to put out new proposals this week in the wake of these shootings. A few things that are in that plan - she talked about federal licensing for gun owners, taxing gun manufacturers, of course, universal background checks, having a minimum purchaser age of 18 years old. It is a wide, broad-reaching plan. And she talked about it to my colleague Asma Khalid for the NPR Politics Podcast last night. And along with that, she also addressed the logistics of how to pass gun legislation.


ELIZABETH WARREN: We've got to have a leader who's willing to stand up to the gun lobby and say no more and to take away one of their principal tools, which is the filibuster.

KURTZLEBEN: And, of course, the president cannot take away the filibuster themselves so what she's banking on here - and any other candidate that wants to take away the filibuster - is Democrats controlling the Senate next year. Which, of course, is - or after next year. Which is, of course, is a huge if. One more thing is, I am outside where there is about to be a gun forum in Des Moines today - a gun control forum, that is - where you have a lot of the candidates speaking today, including Warren.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben.

Danielle, thanks for filling us in on what's happening in Iowa.

KURTZLEBEN: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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