Capitol Alert

Kamala Harris says she’ll take executive action on assault weapons as president

If she’s elected president in 2020, Kamala Harris will have quite the to-do list on gun control.

The California senator plans to announce Wednesday morning in New Hampshire that she will take executive action to ban the importation of all AR-15-style assault weapons if she wins the White House. Last month, Harris promised to take four other executive actions to combat gun violence in her first 100 days, if Congress fails to pass legislation first.

According to a senior Harris campaign official, the Gun Control Act of 1968 gives the executive branch the power to prohibit the importation of guns not “suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” But the official said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has not conducted a comprehensive review of non-importable assault weapons in two decades.

Under Harris’ proposal, the federal government would ban AR-15-style assault weapon imports because they are not “suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes,” including all 44 AR-type models listed in legislation that has been introduced by Harris’ California colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to ban assault weapons.

Additionally, Harris would direct ATF to suspend all assault weapon imports until a comprehensive study is conducted regarding their admissibility under the “sporting purpose” test, which would include all 205 assault weapon models listed in Feinstein’s legislation, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019. Harris is one of the co-sponsors of that bill, which has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The former prosecutor and California attorney general has made gun control an early centerpiece of her presidential campaign, as she jostles for position in a historically crowded primary field. With Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s campaign launch on Monday, there are now 22 Democrats officially in the race.

In April, Harris promised during a live CNN town hall that she would move quickly to close loopholes and tighten regulations on gun purchases, if elected president. “Upon being elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun safety laws and if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action,” Harris told the audience. “And specifically, what I will do is put in place a requirement that for anyone who sells more than five guns a year, they are required to do background checks when they sell those guns.”

According to Harris’ campaign, that would result in near-universal background checks. Harris also said that she would instruct the ATF to revoke the licenses of any gun manufacturers and dealers who don’t follow the law. And she would reverse a regulatory change overseen by President Donald Trump, which allowed hundreds of thousands of people with outstanding warrants to purchase guns.

Finally, Harris said she would move to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” in the Violence Against Women Act, which bars spouses and live-in partners convicted of domestic violence from possessing a gun, but not past or present “dating partners.”

The California senator also said she supported universal background checks and the renewal of the assault weapons ban, although such measures would require action by Congress.

Harris, however, thinks she can reduce the number of assault weapons in the country without Congress. While the definition of an assault weapon is disputed, one pro-gun control news outlet estimates that there are roughly 15 to 20 million “assault-style” rifles in the United States. And approximately one-fifth of those are imported. And as Harris’ campaign noted, several major gun manufacturers are headquartered abroad and export guns to the U.S., including Glock, Sig Sauer, and Beretta.

Harris isn’t the only Democrat in the 2020 race taking an aggressive stand on guns. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was in New Hampshire on Tuesday touting his expansive platform for reducing gun violence, which includes a proposal to require gun owners to get a federal license.

And California Rep. Eric Swalwell made gun control a central part of his campaign launch in April.

Harris will unveil her latest gun-related proposal during a town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire Wednesday morning.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.
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