2020 Candidate Eric Swalwell: Gun Violence Would Be 'My Top Priority As President'

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Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who is running for president in 2020, speaks during a town hall on gun violence at the BB&T Center on April 9, 2019 in Sunrise, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who is running for president in 2020, speaks during a town hall on gun violence at the BB&T Center on April 9, 2019 in Sunrise, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of nearly two dozen candidates jockeying for the party's 2020 presidential nomination, says addressing gun violence would be his top priority if he wins the White House.

"We've gone shooting to shooting and we see nothing happening," Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) tells Here & Now.

In addition to passing stricter background checks, Swalwell says he plans to call for a ban on all assault weapons as well as for the creation of a nationwide gun buyback program.

"My plan — and we've introduced it into the Congress — would have a two-year period to buy the weapons back at market rate," he says. "If people do not want to sell their assault weapon back, they could possess it only at a shooting range or a hunting club. But the idea being that these weapons belong on our battlefields, not in our communities."

Swalwell says his campaign estimates the buyback initiative would cost between $15 billion and $20 billion, and that funding would come from reducing defense spending.

The 38-year-old is also one of the youngest candidates in the Democratic field, and says his age — along with being a father of two young children — gives him a distinct perspective on issues like climate change. Swalwell says he "unapologetically" supports the sweeping "Green New Deal" climate package proposed earlier this year by fellow Democrats Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey.

"I don't know how I could look at my 2-year-old and our 7-month-old 12 years from now and say that we had an opportunity to boldly try and address climate chaos, and I did nothing," he says. "I'm going to do anything I can, because I recognize the urgency of this."

Interview Highlights

On the experience he would bring to the Oval Office

"It's not just my record in Congress that I'll take on my campaign to the White House. It's the experience of being the first in the family to go to college, knowing why people work hard and what they expected to add up to, and being a father of two kids, paying off our student loan debt, fighting insurance companies and worrying about their safety in schools. But in Congress, what distinguishes me I think from a lot of the other candidates is you're not just getting a voice for the future and a 38-year-old candidate. You're getting somebody who has fought for access to education in the legislation I've written around student loan debt relief, who sat on the House floor for 26 hours after the Orlando Pulse [nightclub] shooting and worked to get a majority in the House so that we could pass background checks, and as our democracy was on the line after the Russian interference attack, led the way in the work I did with my House Intelligence Committee colleagues, and on the Judiciary Committee, to make sure the rule of law was standing."

"I think that the tip of the spear of our safety in our country has to be, are we safe and educated and healthy in our community?"

Rep. Eric Swalwell

On the need to address gun violence

"My top priority as president will be to make sure that in every community — whether it's at a church, whether it's at a school or whether it's on your street — that you're free from gun violence. And that's rooted in my experience as a father, as a former prosecutor in the city of Oakland and as someone who's been on the House Judiciary Committee.

"What we can do is pass background checks in the Senate, which I would sign into law. I'm the only candidate calling for a ban and buyback of every single assault weapon in America. But also I've gone across America to places like Philadelphia and Indianapolis and Houston and Chicago to understand the root causes of gun violence in those communities, seeing that a lot of times it's just a failure to invest in hope, like good jobs and education and health care for people who really, really need it."

On his gun buyback proposal

"I'm not even the first person to conceive it. Actually, the Australians did it in the '90s after a mass shooting there. They were able to buy back 700,000 assault weapons. ... The cost could be as high as $15 to $20 billion, we estimate. But I believe that is a lot less to pay than the cost of loss for a family who would lose someone, and also the cost of the trauma that our kids are going through."

On how he would fund the buyback program

"Reduce what we spend on national defense. Our national defense budget continues to go up, up and up, and we have no major combat operations. The nuclear weapons budget, which is a trillion dollars over 30 years, is one place to get it. I think that the tip of the spear of our safety in our country has to be, are we safe and educated and healthy in our community?"

On the urgency of climate change

"I come from the generation that's going to actually live with the consequences of inaction in the past on climate change. It's estimated that in 12 years, if we continue on this path of essentially not addressing carbon emissions, the effects will be irreversible. And what I would like to do ... my plan would invest in direct air capture technologies, like carbon capture, carbon sequestration and carbon reuse, so that we can bring our country to carbon neutral or negative, and that in the fuel and materials and food that the government purchases, that those would also be carbon-neutral materials, food or fuel. I believe that what we can do if we seek to take, say, in the first year, 10 million metric tons of carbon out of our oceans and out of our air and then have a goal to double it each year, the costs will come down as we do that through economies of scale, and that's the way to get to carbon neutral.

"I'm open to [a carbon tax.] I'm certainly open to anything that will reduce the carbon in the air, but also to allow people to keep working. And that's been the challenge here as I've gone across the country. I talk to pipe-fitters and laborers and they tell me that, 'If your plan just puts me out of work, I'm going to vote for my job,' and I get that."

On his approach toward Russia's interference in the 2016 election

"The Russians will feel the pain, until they acknowledge what they did. Right now, they've caused in part the destabilization of Eastern and Western Europe, and what they've done in Syria, and the migrant crisis and they've seen a fractured Europe which has led to I think an inability for countries to unite and stand against Russian aggression. They've put pressure on countries who want to join NATO, and it takes, I think, American leadership to stitch those countries back together to find ways and resources for them not to be so dependent on Russia so that when you need Russia to feel the pain and you need to isolate them and alienate them, you can do so in a unified way."

On how his approach on immigration would differ from that of President Trump

"I would bring leadership where the president gives us only showmanship. I've seen these migrants, I was recently in San Diego at the San Diego sector in a very small room, I saw a large amount of people, many of them little kids being detained, and talking to the Border Patrol agents, learned that most of them had come from Guatemala, Honduras [and] El Salvador.

"Leadership, to me, would dictate investing in the security and opportunity in those countries working with Mexico and other affected countries, and that that would cost less than building thousands of miles of wall or having all of the resources we have right now on our border. But again, that's not as sexy as what the president does, which is he points at a wall and describes people who don't look like him and say that they're the problem. That's showmanship. It's not solving the problem. Leadership takes long-term planning and long-term engaging with allies to solve the problem."

Jill Ryan produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on June 12, 2019.


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Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.



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