Candidates tussle over gun control ahead of fourth debate

Some of the candidates set to take the stage in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate are squaring off a day early on the issue of gun control.

So far the dustup has been contained to social media, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg getting in a jab at former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Snapchat, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) throwing in his two cents on Twitter.

Buttigieg appeared in an interview Monday on Snapchat’s political news show “Good Luck America,” where he was asked to respond to O’Rourke’s criticism of him as a “triangulating, poll-driven politician.”

“I get it,” said Buttigieg. “He needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant.”

The 37-year-old mayor then distanced himself from O’Rourke’s proposed mandatory assault weapon buyback, which has become a signature policy proposal for the congressman following a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, that claimed 22 lives and injured dozens more.

Instead of a mandatory federal buyback ― or as Buttigieg called it Monday, “confiscation” ― Buttigieg said he is advocating for universal background checks, red flag laws, and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. The trio of policies stands a greater chance of actually being passed into law and making a difference than O’Rourke’s proposal, he argued.

Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, we’ve been “talking and talking and talking and nothing is actually changing,” said Buttigieg.

O’Rourke hit right back, accusing the mayor of belittling grassroots voters and overlooking the scourge of gun deaths.

“Pete can belittle the grassroots; he can call buybacks a ‘shiny object,’” he said in a statement. “He can say whatever he wants, but guns kill 40,000 people each year. Those people deserve action. I’ll be fighting for them.”

Amid that tussle, Booker interjected to condemn Buttigieg’s deliberate use of the word “confiscation” and accused the mayor of “doing the NRA’s work for them.”

In a separate part of the interview, Buttigieg also attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for promising not to hold high-dollar fundraisers in the general election should she win the nomination.

“You’ve raised a lot of money from wealthy people,” host Peter Hamby noted. “Is she making a mistake?”

“My competitors can go with whatever strategy they like,” Buttigieg responded, but “we need to make sure we have the resources to compete. We’re not going to beat [President Trump] with pocket change.”

All three candidates ― Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Booker ― have seen their polling numbers slump from springtime highs and are undoubtedly eager to try to differentiate themselves during Tuesday’s debate at Otterbein University, outside of Columbus, Ohio.