MSNBC Puts Gun Control on Center Stage For 2020 Race

Craig Melvin - Publicity - H 2019

The network is hosting 10 leading Democratic candidates for a forum on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin has spent years covering mass shootings around the country, but the issue of gun violence hit even closer to home when his 5-year-old son recently participated in a lock-down drill during his first week of school.

"When you have small children and you know that they are preparing for something like that, it affects you," he told The Hollywood Reporter this week.

Melvin, who also serves as a news anchor for the Today show, said he will draw on the emotional resonance of gun violence when interviewing 10 of the leading Democratic candidates for president on Wednesday for a forum co-hosted by MSNBC.

"One of the goals for this conversation is to try to break through some of the noise, try to break through some of the chatter, to talk about some of the things we can do and some of the things these candidates want to do to reduce the number of gun deaths in this country," he said.

To prepare, Melvin said he has been lugging around an "intimidating" binder containing the gun policy positions of the candidates he will be interviewing, a group that includes frontrunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

"When originally approached about being a part of this, it was a no-brainer for me," he said.

The forum, put on by March For Our Lives and Giffords, was scheduled to coincide roughly with the second anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting that took 58 lives.

According to the network, the audience will include survivors of gun violence, students, family members of those impacted, elected officials and gun violence prevention advocates.

One of the challenges for Melvin and the host organizations will be focusing public attention on an issue that has receded slightly from the public consciousness amid a broader challenge to the legitimacy of Donald Trump's presidency — and his possible impeachment.

"I think that's one problem with our modern democracy," Melvin said. "We collectively can only talk about one thing at a time." (With 10 news-making candidates on the stage, Melvin said he will quiz them on the news of the day if something "warrants.")

Melvin said he regrets that the issue of gun violence has come to be seen through a partisan lens.

"I'm not a partisan guy. I'm not an opinion guy," he said. "However, I think that if you look at the issue of gun violence in this country objectively, you can't argue that there isn't an epidemic of gun violence. There is no debate when it comes to acknowledging the crisis that exists. We've got to figure out how we tackle this crisis. We can't just keep on putting our head in the sand, and that's what we do."