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Kamala Harris is stepping up to address gun violence for 2024


Vice President Kamala Harris has been taking the lead at the White House when it comes to overseeing efforts to combat gun violence, and the topic is touching the reelection campaign, too, as Harris tries to court younger voters, who, right now, aren't showing a lot of enthusiasm about voting for President Biden. NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram has more.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Vice President Harris has been on the road, talking to all kinds of community leaders about gun violence. Today, she was in a hotel ballroom in downtown Washington with hundreds of mayors. She said she's been dealing with this issue since her time as a prosecutor.


KAMALA HARRIS: I know what guns do and gun violence does to the human body. For so many of you, you, too, know what gun violence does to people, to a community, to families, to the psyche of a community.

SHIVARAM: Last fall, when President Biden created the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, he tapped Harris to take charge. It's an issue that has taken her around the country to meet with advocates and survivors, too, like at this event last week at a middle school in North Carolina.


HARRIS: When I was speaking with these young leaders, before I walked in here, they were talking about, hey, shouldn't we be looking at people's backgrounds before they can buy a gun? Yes, young leaders, I said to them. You are absolutely right.

SHIVARAM: Harris consistently points to Congress to pass an assault weapons ban and expand background checks, but she's also been highlighting what the White House has been doing on its own, like executive actions on gun control and providing funds for mental health counselors in schools. The VP's team says these events will happen more as Harris travels on the campaign trail, where she's been specifically trying to drum up support among younger voters and voters of color.

EVE LEVENSON: The more that she's out there talking and connecting to these folks, it also, I think, only earns her credibility.

SHIVARAM: That's Eve Levenson, who was recently named to the Biden campaign team. Her job is to get young voters excited about Biden. She says the campaign is framing this issue, and related issues, as being about freedom - freedom from violence and freedom to be safe.

LEVENSON: That is what young people want, is to be able to have that freedom and to be able to have a government that's supporting them, but not constraining them.

SHIVARAM: Gun violence can happen anywhere, and it's now the No. 1 killer of children in the U.S. Gun control advocates say that makes it more top of mind for young people as they vote. Ryan Barto is with March for Our Lives, a group created after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

RYAN BARTO: Especially when it happens in your community, it changes things, and it definitely, definitely turns out people to vote. I mean, it's why, again, we've seen year after year, you know, the youth vote be one of the most - you know, most powerful forces in our elections.

SHIVARAM: A recent poll from Tufts University backs that up. Twenty-six percent of young voters named gun violence prevention as one of their top issues for this election. Among young Black voters, the number jumped to 36%. Research from Tufts also shows that when young people are engaged on gun violence prevention, they're more likely to vote. But getting young people to show up at the polls this fall is still an uphill climb for the campaign because of their concern on how Biden has handled a range of issues, like climate change and Biden's support for Israel and its war in Gaza, which has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. John Della Volpe at Harvard conducts polls of young people and has previously worked with the Biden campaign. He says, for young voters, the focus is on human rights.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: It's really about wrapping everything together in terms of a set of values. And that's what young people vote. They're values-based voters, not transactional voters.

SHIVARAM: Della Volpe has watched how Harris has been connecting with younger voters, like during recent stops at college campuses. He says her approach is working. It's a strategy, though, that she'll have to keep up into November to ensure young people choose to turn out to vote instead of staying home.

Deepa Shivaram, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMON SONG, "THEY SAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.