Politics & Policy

Democrats Dodge Booker’s Call for Federal Gun-Licensing Scheme

Sen. Cory Booker speaks during an Iowa Democrats Black Caucus town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, April 16, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)
Party leaders and 2020 rivals were largely non-committal when asked to comment on the New Jersey senator’s expansive plan.

On Monday, New Jersey senator Cory Booker introduced a gun-control plan that’s much more restrictive than those of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. At the heart of Booker’s proposal is a requirement that American citizens must, in order to own a gun, get a license from the federal government and renew it every five years.

“Individuals could seek a gun license at a designated local office, widely available in urban and rural areas, similar to applying for or renewing a passport,” the proposal explains. “They would submit fingerprints, provide basic background information, and demonstrate completion of a certified gun safety course. The FBI would then verify submission of required materials and run a comprehensive background check before issuing a federal gun license, after which the license-holder could freely purchase and own firearms.”

The idea of federal licensing and registration for gun owners has been around for years, but it’s something that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama ran on during the 2008 Democratic primary, and it’s gained little traction since then.

Some congressional Democrats and Republicans who have supported new gun-control legislation in recent years are quick to dismiss Booker’s licensing-and-registration scheme. “I don’t agree with that,” Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) tells National Review. Senator Jon Tester (D., Mont.), who, like Collins, voted in 2013 against the federal “assault-weapons ban” but backed legislation expanding federal background checks, immediately rejected the idea with a simple “yeah” when asked if he opposes it.

But most Senate Democrats tell National Review they can’t comment on the general policy of national gun licensing and registration until they read Booker’s plan.

“We need serious gun-safety legislation, but I have not yet seen Cory’s [plan],” says Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“I haven’t seen it,” Senator Kamala Harris of California says. “As you know, I’m a proponent of smart gun-safety laws, and I’ve indicated pretty publicly that Congress fails to act.”

Democratic senators Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, Tim Kaine, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Patty Murray similarly tell NR they can’t comment on the policy because they have not seen Booker’s plan. Booker has served in the Senate since October 2013, but he introduced this plan only a few months into his presidential campaign. (Booker is currently garnering the support of 2.5 percent of Democratic primary voters in an average of national polls.)

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut went a step further than his colleagues by praising Booker, though without endorsing the New Jersey senator’s plan. “I think he makes a very valid point that we often require a lot more paperwork to buy and own a pet than we do a gun, and I think that a lot of responsible gun owners that I talk to in Connecticut don’t have any problem with licensing requirements or training requirements. So I think it’s a really interesting proposal,” Murphy says. “I’m really glad he’s decided to make this a centerpiece of his campaign.”

Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii initially indicates she supports national licensing and registration. “Yes, ’cause we have way too many guns in our country, and we have major loopholes in who can get access to get their hands on these guns,” she says. But she then adds that she doesn’t want to get into “the specifics” of Booker’s plan.

“My guess is it’ll go nowhere,” says Republican senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Even in “the Democratic primary, there’ll be a real problem” for Booker.

While the Democratic party has been pushed sharply to the left on health-care policy by Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All plan and on environmental policy by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, it does not appear at the moment that Booker’s gun-control plan will have a similar effect. Most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are in the same position as the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates were: They won’t go beyond supporting the “assault-weapons ban” and “universal background checks,” and have little hope of securing the votes, even in a Democratic Congress, to pass either measure.

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