clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is gun violence in America a foreign policy problem? Stacey Abrams and Mitch Landrieu say yes.

It’s unclear if that messaging will resonate with certain experts or voters.

Stacey Abrams during a conference on April 11, 2019. She believes gun violence in America is a national security problem.
Stacey Abrams during a conference on April 11, 2019. She believes gun violence in America is a national security problem.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The United States’ gun violence problem isn’t just a domestic issue — it’s a national security and foreign policy crisis.

That’s the case that Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia House minority leader who lost the heavily contested governor’s race, and Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans’ former mayor, made Friday at a Washington conference aimed at defining a progressive foreign policy.

Hosted by National Security Action, a left-leaning organization that works with Democrats to create a coherent foreign policy, the gathering brought together current lawmakers, top Obama-era officials, and political operatives to discuss issues like climate change, immigration, and Donald Trump’s presidency. But the final panel featuring Abrams and Landrieu, billed as a discussion about what foreign policy means to local communities, took a surprising turn.

“Our values espoused abroad must be reflected by the values experienced at home,” said Abrams, who is mulling a presidential run. “One of the challenges ... endemic to gun violence is that we cannot challenge and chastise other nations for the security of their people, when we allow our people to be randomly murdered for the lack of spine to call out the problem.”

Gun violence, for example, can be regarded as a national security issue, Abrams continued. “We do ourselves a great disservice when we send our foreign policy folks abroad to chastise and castigate” other countries if we don’t solve that problem at home.

In addition to other things, Landrieu agreed about the need to address the gun violence problem — which he experienced up close as the mayor of New Orleans — because potential military recruits are being needlessly killed throughout the country.

He also added another point about America’s gun violence: “When we say ‘homeland security,’ you actually have to secure the homeland. Not just from people that might be coming this way militarily to hurt us, but actually on the streets, every day, all the time.”

It’s an interesting idea, and one not usually discussed in foreign policy circles, particularly in Washington. Their message clearly resonated with some in the audience.

“It is certainly true that much of the rest of the world looks at us with incomprehension and judges us to be a less moral society because we don’t seem to care to protect schoolchildren,” Heather Hurlburt, a US foreign policy expert at the New America Foundation in Washington, told me on Friday.

Progressive groups, like National Security Action, have pushed this issue for at least a year. There’s no question that America has a gun problem unmatched in the rest of the world. A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medicine Association found the US’s civilian gun death rate is nearly four times that of Switzerland, five times that of Canada, 35 times that of the United Kingdom, and 53 times that of Japan.

But it’s unclear if the idea of gun violence as a foreign policy problem will actually resonate with voters in the 2020 presidential campaign, who may not connect two pretty disparate concepts.

Why gun violence isn’t a clear cut foreign policy issue

Some experts I spoke to at the conference weren’t fully convinced by Abrams and Landrieu’s argument. While they agreed there is a gun violence issue in America, they said it wasn’t really a national security concern.

Their argument also raised some questions for me, like, what role should the Pentagon or State Department play in reducing domestic gun violence? If gun violence in America is a national security issue, is healthcare? What about other issues that affect Americans’ well-being?

Abrams and Landrieu will also face the critique that other countries may look askew at the US because of its gun violence, but they haven’t really stopped engaging with America over it.

That means the former officials’ case will need more socializing and debate. And while their argument likely won’t appeal to many right-wing voters, it’s a potentially interesting new aspect of a new progressive foreign policy platform.

German Lopez contributed to this report.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.