While last week’s shootings at UNC Charlotte put the city in a national spotlight, our problems with gun violence have been evident for a long time. Charlotte is on pace to have more than 100 homicides in 2019, mostly from guns. Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey thinks he has a solution to curb gun violence nationwide through gun control proposal he unveiled this week.
Booker was in Charlotte on Friday for a roundtable discussion on guns at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. First, he spoke to WFAE’s Nick de la Canal.
Nick de la Canal: So you've introduced an ambitious proposal that calls for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, better enforcement of existing gun laws and perhaps most notably also requiring gun owners to apply for and obtain a license in order to purchase and own a firearm. Can you expand on why you introduce these measures?
Sen. Cory Booker: Sure. We have a unique problem on the planet earth where in our country we see levels of carnage and violence and murder that is only seen really in other nations at times of war. More people have died in the last 50 years in America due to gun violence than all the wars in our history combined, from the revolutionary war to World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and so on. This is absolutely unacceptable. It's a uniquely American problem and we can solve it. Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to concern themselves with, but what we can do, common sense things, to keep the guns out of the hands of gun-runners and people who seek to do violent and horrific harm.
Nick de la Canal: So about this gun registry, or license registry, what kind of requirements would someone need to meet in order to get a gun license?
Sen. Cory Booker: Well, if you have a car you know it's pretty much that basic. You need to demonstrate some ability, a basic understanding of how to use that weapon. Number two, you need to go through the processes of validating who you are. It actually helps to close all the background check loopholes. It's a basic process that people have seen in buying and purchasing cars and owning cars that we all know. This is not something that's an overreach. It's something that's simple and basic. It will save American lives. In fact, in states that have done it like Connecticut they've seen a drop in gun violence over 40 percent.
And Sen. Booker is right, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley. They credit Connecticut’s permit purchase law for a 40 percent drop in gun-related homicides a decade after it was passed in the 1990s.
Gun-buyers need to pass a background check and get a permit before they can purchase a firearm, whether from a dealer or a private citizen. Buyers must also pass a gun safety course.
Sen. Cory Booker: Well, we know the kind of things that disqualify folks. We say them all the time but right now the system as it is has such huge loopholes in it, you can drive a Mack truck full of weapons through it. So it makes sure that people who have been convicted of non-felony domestic violence can't get guns to make sure, if you're on the terrorist no-fly list, you can't get a gun. If you've been convicted of violent crime you can't get a gun. So there's a number of things that we already say that we want in our laws but does not happen because of the loopholes and that we don't have common sense processes like licensing.
Nick de la Canal: Do you think that you'll get pushback from people who might be concerned with the idea of the federal government having a registry or a list of gun owners?
Sen. Cory Booker: Well, I think that there will always be pushback when you're talking about doing things that haven't been done before. But the reality is from the framers of our country who used words like "well regulated" in the Second Amendment. This is a reasonable regulation that does not infringe upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners. The only people that should really be concerned about this are those folks who have malintent.
But I'll tell you what's unacceptable is when people are killed in schools and we do nothing. People are killed in churches and synagogues and we do nothing. As a Christian, I believe that faith without works is dead and I'm tired of all that we have to offer our society are thoughts and prayers. We are not helpless. We can do more.
Nick de la Canal: As I understand you would have to reapply for a license every five years for each gun. Is that true? And, how much might that cost per gun?
Sen. Cory Booker Well, number one that is something that's just basic. Circumstances change and reapplying for a license like folks do for their hunting permits is something that is not much to ask.
Booker’s plan does not include cost details – the cost to the government, or whether there’s a cost of the applying for permit. Booker says it’s inconsequential to the cost of gun violence.
Sen. Cory Booker: To me it's pennies per gun in terms of once you set up the administration to get this done, as we know it's not that much to go register to vote for example. It's filling out paperwork and going through the process.
Nick de la Canal: So finally you know there are also many underlying factors to violent crime that are not limited to just the availability of guns. Do you plan to address some of those underlying causes as well?
Sen. Cory Booker: Yeah absolutely. I'm hoping folks will take time to read the full plan that we have, and so investing in post-traumatic care, having our best agencies research about the reduction in violence and making sure that we are doing things to hold the corporate gun industry accountable. There are a number of things in this that go far deeper than just the availability of weapons because we know from communities struggling with violence that there are other types of interventions ranging from mental health interventions to just dealing with some of the things that unfortunately is where we're having cracks when it comes to dealing with issues of domestic violence.