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Days After El Paso Massacre, Julián Castro Releases 'Plan To Disarm Hate'

Michael Minasi for KUT
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro holds a rally at Cheer Up Charlies in June.

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro announced a "plan to disarm hate" Friday morning, less than a week after a deadly shooting in El Paso that targeted Hispanic immigrants.

Arguing that the "nation's weak gun laws enable violent extremism," the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor proposed a raft of ideas to fight the rise of domestic terrorism and reduce firearm violence.

"Now is our moment to decide what kind of country we want to be," the seven-page plan says. "We can be paralyzed by fear of extremism and cower before the corporate gun lobby, or we can combat white supremacist terrorism directly and end the gun violence epidemic that has plagued our nation for too long."

To combat the kind of hate that fueled the El Paso attack, Castro proposes re-focusing domestic terrorism investigations on the "most urgent threats," creating a "White House Initiative on Disarming Hate" and convening a yearly summit for the cause hosted by the president. The initiative would get at least $100 million in federal funds every year to coordinate anti-hate programs across five federal departments. Castro said he also wants to improve hate-crime reporting and partner with other countries to combat violent extremism — something the Trump administration has declined to do.

When it comes to guns, Castro says he would immediately carry out a set of executive actions, including a ban on the import of assault weapons and a requirement that the FBI deny firearm sales to those with warrants out for their arrest. After wielding those mandates, Castro says he would push for several proposals that are widely accepted by Democratic presidential contenders: universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and red flag laws that allow courts to temporarily take guns from people deemed dangerous.

On some ideas, though, Castro goes decisively further than some of his rivals have. He would not only bring back a permanent ban on assault weapons but also require registration of those that people already own and establish a buyback program to "ensure 2021 is the high-water mark of weapons of wars on American streets."

Castro would also mandate a license to purchase firearms. Buyers would have to register with their fingerprints, pass an FBI background check, complete a law enforcement interview and go through a "federally certified gun safety course."

And he would double the excise tax on guns and ammunition, raising it from 10% to 20%, with the additional revenue going toward gun violence prevention initiatives.

The proposal comes six days after a gunman opened fire on a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 people and wounding at least two dozen others. The alleged shooter is believed to have written a hate-filled manifesto that surfaced online shortly before the massacre, decrying a "Hispanic invasion of Texas."

A couple of the plan's components touch on ideas that have only gained traction following the massacre. The other Texan running for president, El Pasoan Beto O'Rourke, made headlines earlier this week when he said he would be open to a mandatory gun buyback program as well as firearms licensing.

The plan is Castro's latest policy rollout — and latest effort to distinguish himself in a crowded primary where he has built some recent fundraising and media momentum but still polls around 1%. He has previously put out proposals on issues including immigration, education, housing and police reform.

He unveiled the plan at the start of his latest trip to Iowa, where he is set to participate in a gun safety forum Saturday in Des Moines.

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