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Parkland dad Fred Guttenberg thanks candidate Eric Swalwell, a California congressman campaigning on gun reform. See more photos from day two of the Democratic debates here.EXPAND
Parkland dad Fred Guttenberg thanks candidate Eric Swalwell, a California congressman campaigning on gun reform. See more photos from day two of the Democratic debates here.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Parkland Parents Bring Gun Violence to Center Stage at Democratic Debates

There are usually two tie colors politicians wear: red (symbolizing power) and blue (representing honesty). But last night, presidential candidate Eric Swalwell, a congressman from California, arrived at the Arsht Center for the second Democratic debate decked out in an orange tie and ribbon.

The accessory choice was a visual representation of the keystone of Swalwell's campaign: gun violence. He wore the orange ribbon to honor Jamie Guttenberg, one of the students killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. His guest for the evening was Fred Guttenberg, Jamie's father. Google searches for "orange ribbon" jumped 3,800 percent last night, according to data from Google Trends.

Outside the Arsht Center, a contingent of Parkland moms gathered to represent Moms Demand Action, a "gun sense" advocacy organization founded after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"You never know what kind of activism you have within you until your kids are threatened," said Angela Weber, who has one child currently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and another who will attend after middle school. "We can relate on a totally different level now to moms dealing with everyday gun violence in America."

"We wanted to be here to share the news about all types of gun violence," added Heather Chapman, a fellow Parkland mom with a soon-to-be senior at Stoneman Douglas.

Chapman and Weber, who call themselves "activist buddies," first met at a Parkland community gathering after the May 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas that killed ten people. The moms helped organize a card-writing event for Parkland students to send words of encouragement and resiliency to the Santa Fe survivors. "Our kids could really relate," Chapman said.

Both moms were wearing their Moms Demand Action pins on Eric Swalwell campaign T-shirts yesterday evening. "He sits in people's backyards to talk about gun violence and listens to the community," Weber said, explaining why she supports Swalwell. "We knew that they [the Swalwell campaign] didn't want to use our community as a photo op."

The mayor of Parkland, Christine Hunschofsky, on the other hand, last night endorsed Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, for president:

During the debates, Swalwell criticized the other candidates for not doing "a single thing to save a single life in Parkland."

"We have the NRA on the ropes because of the moms, because of the Brady Group, because of the Giffords, because of March for Our Lives, but I'm the only candidate on this stage calling for a ban and buyback of every single assault weapon in America," he said.

Swalwell and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders exchanged heated words after Sanders expressed support for a ban on assault weapons but not a buyback program. Swalwell launched an eight-part plan to prevent gun violence this month, the most comprehensive policy offered thus far by a presidential candidate. The proposal would "ban civilian possession of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons" with an exception for shooting ranges and hunting clubs, "buy back military-style semiautomatic weapons from anyone who chooses to follow the law," and "criminally prosecute any person caught defying the law." He made it clear Thursday night that his policy would not extend to handguns, which are used in the majority of firearm-related deaths in the United States.

The exchange somewhat echoed the conversation during the first night of the Democratic debates on Wednesday. After a minor technical delay, moderator Chuck Todd asked each candidate what he or she would do as president should Congress pass an assault weapons ban. "There will still be hundreds of millions of guns in this country," Todd said.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called gun violence "a national health emergency in this country," but she was unwilling to endorse a gun buyback program, insisting more research is needed on gun violence in America. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker expressed support for a federal buyback program but did not offer specifics. Other candidates simply reiterated their support for an assault weapons ban.

Although gun reform was a prominent topic both nights of the debate, students with March for Our Lives say they want to hear more comprehensive plans from the candidates. Following last night's debate, the organization tweeted, "We aren’t looking for sound bites we are looking for coherent, life saving policy." November 2020 will be the first presidential election that survivors of the Parkland shooting can vote in.

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