DES MOINES — One by one, Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday emphasized the urgent need to confront gun violence in America, speaking largely in harmony on an issue that has been thrust to the forefront after last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio.
At a forum in Des Moines, the candidates voiced support for a common set of gun control proposals, like requiring universal background checks and banning military-style semiautomatic rifles. And they repeatedly cited the same obstacles in their path: President Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell and the National Rifle Association.
“People say to me, ‘Did Donald Trump cause those folks to be killed?’” Senator Kamala Harris of California asked. “Well, no, of course, he didn’t pull the trigger. But he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York urged gun control activists to pressure Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and the majority leader. She suggested that they tweet at him, “Mitch, call the vote! Mitch, call the vote!”
And before she spoke at the forum, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts laid out a series of proposals to address gun violence, with an ambitious goal for her presidency: reducing gun deaths by 80 percent.
Sixteen candidates appeared at the forum, which was sponsored by Everytown for Gun Safety and two of its branches, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action. The mere presence of so many Democratic candidates was evidence of how they are not shying away from talking about gun control in the 2020 race.
“There has never been more unity on gun safety across so many Democratic presidential candidates and across the entire Democratic Party as there is today,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York City mayor who also founded Everytown.
But Mr. Bloomberg, who considered running for president in 2020 but opted against it, did allow himself a jab at one Democratic candidate: Ms. Warren, who assails the power of big corporations and wants to impose a wealth tax on the superrich. Taking the stage after Ms. Warren spoke, Mr. Bloomberg wryly recounted telling her, “If my company hadn’t been successful, we wouldn’t be here today, so enough with this stuff.”
Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Warren hugged goodbye after their encounter backstage, according to two people familiar with how they parted ways.
At the forum, Ms. Warren and other Democrats presented themselves as determined to address the issue of guns. “I’ve taken on the N.R.A., nationally, and I’ve beaten them,” said former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., adding of the Second Amendment, “No amendment is, in fact, absolute.”
Mr. Biden also recalled meeting with “the kids from Parkland” when he was vice president; Mr. Biden left office in January 2017, and the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., occurred over a year later.
A Biden aide later clarified that Mr. Biden met with families after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., when he was vice president, and that he met with Parkland survivors after leaving office.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont offered a message for Mr. McConnell: “Reconvene the United States Senate now,” he said. “If McConnell wants to vote against gun safety legislation, let him vote against it. But reconvene the United States Senate. Let’s have that discussion. Let’s have that vote. Do what the American people want.” (Mr. McConnell has said he wants to pass bipartisan legislation, but he does not plan to bring the Senate back from its August recess.)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., whose candidacy is rooted in generational change, cited the power of young people pushing for action on gun safety. He said he was motivated to run for president to counter the notion that the United States had “accepted the unacceptable” throughout his lifetime — including on gun violence.
“Shame on us, God help us, if 20 years from now there’s a candidate forum with presidential candidates in the aftermath of mass shootings and a day-to-day beat of daily shootings, saying, ‘O.K., what are we going to do to make sure it’s different this time?’” he said. “Let’s not let that happen.”
There were nearly 40,000 gun deaths in the United States in 2017, 60 percent of which were suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Explaining her goal of reducing gun deaths by 80 percent, Ms. Warren drew a parallel with the effort to reduce automobile deaths over the past half-century.
“I want us to change how we think about gun safety in America,” Ms. Warren said. “It’s not just about passing four pieces of legislation over there or changing two regulations over here. It’s about reducing the deaths from gun violence. That’s what our goal has to be.”
Under her plan, Ms. Warren would make major changes to how Americans buy guns. Her plan includes creating a federal licensing system, akin to getting a driver’s license, for people buying guns or ammunition. She is also calling for new restrictions on gun purchases: The minimum age would be 21, people would be limited to one firearm purchase per month and there would be a one-week waiting period for all purchases.
Ms. Warren’s plan also calls for increasing taxes on gun manufacturers, as well as spending $100 million annually on research into gun violence.
Her plan endorses several proposals that are broadly popular among the Democratic candidates, like requiring universal background checks; banning assault weapons; enacting a so-called red flag law that allows guns to be removed from people deemed dangerous; and repealing a law that shields gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits.
The possibility of passing a red flag law has received considerable attention after last weekend’s shootings, and Mr. Trump on Friday said there was “tremendous support” for what he described as “really common-sense, sensible, important background checks.” But his track record on guns leaves major question marks about his commitment to that position.
In her plan, Ms. Warren laid out actions she would take on guns using executive power, such as expanding background checks to cover more gun purchases. But much of her agenda on the issue would require passing legislation in Congress. To do that, Ms. Warren reiterated her call to get rid of the Senate filibuster — a step that would clear the way for a narrow Democratic majority to pass new gun laws without needing to reach 60 votes.