Treating gun violence as an "epidemic": Cory Booker unveils ambitious gun control plan

Gun control advocates praise Booker's plan, which would outlaw assault rifles and mandate national licensing

Published May 7, 2019 6:00AM (EDT)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Getty/Ethan Miller/)
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Getty/Ethan Miller/)

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National gun control groups and progressives offered praise on Monday for Sen. Cory Booker's proposal "to end the gun violence epidemic," with some advocates calling the plan the most ambitious of any gun control action plan offered by the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

The New Jersey Democrat detailed his plan in a Medium post, saying that meaningful gun control reform is a matter of making justice "a reality for all."

"My plan to address gun violence is simple — we will make it harder for people who should not have a gun to get one," Booker said in a statement. "I am sick and tired of hearing 'thoughts and prayers' for the communities that have been shattered by gun violence."

Booker's plan includes a ban on military-style semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15 — which have been used in a number of recent mass shootings — and high-capacity magazines, both of which have been called for by progressives who want sweeping reforms to dramatically curb what they view as a public health crisis, rather than incremental measures.

The proposal also includes a national gun licensing program, under which all gun purchasers would be required to undergo a federal background check and fingerprinting, an interview and a gun safety course.

"If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to own a gun," Booker said Monday.

A 2013 survey showed that more than 77 percent of Americans support a gun licensing program, while the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University in 2014 found that gun licensing requirements have been more effective at the state level in reducing gun deaths than background checks and bans on certain weapons.

Several gun control groups noted that Booker's sweeping plan is the latest sign that the country and the Democratic Party are quickly moving to the left on gun violence issues, in the years following several high-profile mass shootings which killed dozens of Americans.

"Talking about gun laws was once a political third rail," said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords Law Center. "Heading into 2020, it's a political must."

The nonprofit organization Brady — formerly known as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence — suggested that Booker's plan signifies a response to increased energy among gun control advocates including the survivors of last year's shooting in Parkland, Florida, who led other young people to hold school walkouts and organized the nationwide March for Our Lives weeks after the attack.

"America is ready to treat gun violence as the epidemic that it is," tweeted the organization.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was shot and killed at Parkland, called the plan "impressive and aggressive."

"Thank you, [Sen. Booker], for helping to raise the issue of gun violence in this presidential campaign and for these steps to end the gun violence epidemic and to lower the gun violence death rate in America," Guttenberg wrote.

Booker's 14-point plan also calls for federal funding to support local evidence-based programs aimed at preventing violence in marginalized communities.

As Giffords Law Center reported last month, Oakland, California, cut its gun homicide rate in half since 2012 through a multi-pronged strategy aimed at researching gun violence in the city; engaging with those found to be at risk for perpetrating violence; and reforming police-community relations.

The plan also includes a provision for closing the so-called "boyfriend loophole," which has kept gun control laws from applying to domestic abusers who are not married to their victims.

"While current law forbids an abusive spouse or ex-spouse convicted of abuse or under a restraining order from purchasing a firearm, the same commonsense rule does not extend to non-felony abuse at the hands of dating partners or former dating partners," Booker's campaign wrote at Medium.

"The risk of homicide in a domestic violence incident increases by 500 percent with the presence of a gun," the campaign added. "Cory will make closing the 'Boyfriend Loophole' a top priority."

Progressive blogger Melissa McEwan praised the senator for prioritizing the end of the loophole, which she called "a crucial public safety issue for women."

By Julia Conley

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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