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'What we need is fewer guns on the streets': Rep. Moulton discusses gun control, DACA

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) visited Duke Thursday to discuss different issues facing the country. During a talk hosted by the Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service, Moulton discussed the need for bipartisan compromise in Congress and his views on the Democratic Party. 

The Chronicle also spoke with Moulton about the ongoing debate on gun violence in the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Fla. which left 17 people dead, among other topics. Here is the full audio version of the interview. Highlights are below. 

Moulton said President Trump’s calls to arm highly-trained teachers and give them bonuses to protect schools from shootings is a “terrible idea”:

“It’s like saying we have a problem with fires, and so we should buy more matches. It’s literally moving in the opposite direction. What we need is fewer guns on the streets. We need teachers who can actually focus on teaching and have the resources to teach. And a lot of teachers don’t even have the books they need. Let’s not spend the money on guns. Let’s spend it on books. And I would add that it just come out that there actually was an armed person at [Stoneman Douglas High School]—a sheriff deputy—and he didn’t do anything. And this is someone who is literally trained to use a gun to protect students. So this is an idea that comes straight from the [National Rifle Association] and the gun lobby straight to President Trump’s desks. It’s not something that will make us safer. I think it will actually make us a lot less safe.” 

Moulton is a Marine Corps veteran who served four tours in Iraq. He has seen the damage that assault weapons do to the body. He said assault rifles are “weapons of war” that do not “belong on our streets”:

“For the same reason that we have banned landmines, we have banned rocket launchers, you can’t be a private person and buy a tank, you shouldn’t be able to buy these weapons of war either…I will acknowledge that there was not a reduction in gun violence after the assault weapons ban was passed, you know, a couple decades ago. But the reality is the world’s changed a bit. And while I wouldn’t expect banning assault weapons to eliminate the vast majority of gun deaths, which happen in the home, which usually are with hand guns, I do think it would limit these mass shootings.” 

Congress unsuccessfully tried to pass gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Conn. in 2012. Moulton said his proposal to ban bump stocks, the device used in the massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas in October 2017, could pass the House of Representatives:

“I’m the co-author of the bump stock ban in Congress that has more Republicans signed on than any other piece of gun legislation in recent memory. And so many more Republicans have told me personally that they will vote for it, even though they’re not formally signed on as co-sponsors yet. All we need is the Speaker of the House to have some courage and bring it to a vote. If Speaker [Paul] Ryan did his job and brought that bill to a vote today, it would pass. And we would have an example on the books of Democrats and Republicans coming together to do the right thing to keep our country safe—and by the way, not violating the second amendment.” 

Moulton acknowledged that some Democrats want more than just a bump stock ban: 

“They might be right, but we should take everything we can get…I’m more interested in actually getting something done to make our community safer. And that’s why I worked across the aisle with a Republican to author my bill.”

President Trump’s March 5 deadline for Congress to reach a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation, is less than two weeks away. Last week, the Senate could not advance three different pieces of legislation that would give the DACA recipients citizenship.

Moulton said he is unsure about what will happen with DACA: 

“I just can’t tell. We have a president who’s so erratic that one moment he’d agree to some of the bipartisan immigration deals, then he changed his mind. This was back before the shutdown. We weren’t even supposed to have a shutdown because a bipartisan group from Congress presented the President with a plan, and he agreed to it. A few hours later, all of a sudden, he wasn’t agreeing to it again. So, it’s impossible to predict where this will go, but we have got to protect these innocent kids.”

Last year, Democrats suffered a string of defeats in special elections, but finished the year off electing a senator in Alabama and nearly taking the Virginia state house. That success has continued this year. 

But Moulton has called for new leadership for the party. He said he wants a new generation of Democrats that is forward-looking: 

“The reason that we did so well is because we had great candidates. And that's one of the reasons I spent so much time recruiting and supporting great candidates across this country. I'm focused on veterans running in swing districts to take back the House in 2018. Nineteen amazing people, like Amy McGrath, the first person to fly an F/A-18 in combat in the Marine Corps, she's running in Kentucky. Dan McCready right down the road here, a marine veteran I met in business school. So there's amazing candidates out there, but that's not enough.

The reality is the Democrats, we've won some races, [but] don't forget we've also had a couple losses. We poured millions of dollars into Jon Ossoff's race down in Georgia and we lost. We can't expect to win if we don't start leading again, if we don't do more than say, ‘the Republicans are bad, Trump is bad.’ We need to talk about what our vision for the country is and how we're going to meet the challenges of the future, not just the challenges of the past, and I think it's time for a new generation of leaders to step up and do that for the country.

I don't support every veteran—it's not a litmus test by any means. But in general, veterans have had this experience of putting their country first, before their own personal politics or party politics. I think they know how to do what's right even if it takes a lot of political courage. Because many of them have faced bigger challenges in life than the political challenges we've faced in Washington. So I think it's a good recipe. By the way, I don't mean just military veterans here. I support national service veterans—Peace Corps, Teach for America, people who have made sacrifices as young Americans to serve others, to serve our country.” 

Moulton said “it is not a sure bet” that Democrats retake the house in this year’s primary elections: 

“There's a lot of time between now and November, and there's a lot of opportunity for us to do the right thing, like show a vision for the country, and make some leadership changes that people can get behind. There's also time for us to screw it up."

The Chronicle has reported that women have experienced sexual harassment at Duke. Moulton reflected on sexual harassment across universities and in Congress: 

I'm not an expert on the process at universities, but it was totally broken in Congress, I can tell you that, and that's why I was one of the earliest co-sponsors of [ME TOO Congress Act] to get that system fixed. This is a problem that quite obviously touches all parts of our society—schools, universities, the business world, corporate executives, the media world, the congressional world. Just speaking as a member of Congress, I think we should be leading the way on fixing it. We should be setting policies for ourselves that are an example to the rest of the country. With the policies that we've had in place up until now, the opposite has been the case. 

Despite rumors that he could run for president in 2020, Moulton said he does not plan on running:  

Look, I'm honored and I'm flattered. The fact that people are saying we need new voices in the party, we need people to talk about a vision of the future, an optimistic vision for our country, this is what this is all about. What I'm focused on is getting the House back by supporting a new generation of leaders who are running in November 2018.


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