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We talked to experts about how debate moderators can stop asking lousy gun violence questions

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

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With the 2020 Democratic presidential debates in full swing and the National Rifle Association weakened by financial scandals, gun violence prevention experts want moderators of upcoming debates to ask candidates fact-based questions about firearm policy rather than focus on “irrelevant” and “sensationalist” ones.

In the past, gun safety platforms have failed to break through during both primary and general presidential debates. None of the 2008 presidential debates included questions on gun policy, even though the Virginia Tech shooting -- one of the deadliest rampages in U.S. history -- had recently happened in April 2007. In 2012, only one of the three presidential debates included gun safety questions. Of the 12 main Republican primary presidential debates in 2016, only four included questions about gun violence, and then-candidate Donald Trump spent just under three minutes answering questions about guns.

In this election cycle, moderator Chuck Todd did bring up gun safety during the first Democratic presidential primary debate on June 26, but it served as an example of how not to question the candidates about their platforms. While asking former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) a question, the NBC host adopted a right-wing talking point that strengthening gun laws would require confiscation of people’s privately owned firearms.

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