Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey was the third candidate, after Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, to participate in the 2020 Gun Safety Forum, hosted by Giffords, March For Our Lives, and MSNBC, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The forum includes nine major Democratic candidates to talk about what each presidential hopeful wants to do to reduce the epidemic of gun violence. (Senator Sanders was scheduled to participate but is unable to due to health issues.)
Forum leaders include former Congressperson Gabrielle Giffords, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Ariel Hobbs and David Hogg from March For Our Lives. MSNBC host Craig Melvin moderated the forum, which gives candidates 25 minutes each and at least two audience questions in addition to the (roughly) standard three each candidate will get from him in the opener.
“I made a decision to live in a section of the city that had already seen too much,” Booker states in the opening of his segment. “Parents tell you that children are showing signs of PTSD. … The levels of gun violence are so high, it’s like people in certain communities are living in war zones.”
Melvin asked what would happen if he were theoretically a gun owner and Booker became president. “We’ve created a system where you’re only as safe as the state near you [with] the least restrictive gun laws,” Booker says. “In states with licensing, the crime guns are coming from outside our state.”
Here’s the clip, which is quickly going viral on Twitter:
“Here’s my message to Democrats: the public is already there,” Booker continues in reference to some of his fellow candidates who aren’t as progressive on gun reform as his platform is. “Well, over 75% of Americans support gun licensing. This isn’t about leadership … it’s life or death in communities like mine. … Follow the evidence, not the corporate gun lobby. … Follow the American people.”
Booker also stressed that the number one killer of black children in the United States is gun violence. “This is a uniquely American problem,” he said on the gun violence epidemic, which is absolutely true.
Booker’s passion is incredible. He didn’t hold back on calling out other progressive candidates, for example former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, about their hesitancy to support certain gun actions. “You should not be a nominee for our party if you do not believe in gun licensing," he said directly.
Here’s part of that now-viral moment:
The senator stressed that while it’s excellent to see candidates like Beto O’Rourke coming around to his more expansive ideas, he’s been the one leading with them. And it’s time for the country to take action as every other major nation has. “We can’t protect you,” Booker says we tell children in reference to school shootings. “So instead we're going to teach you how to hide.”
Here’s that clip:
“Enough is enough,” he continued to enormous audience applause. “I am going to bring a fight to the NRA and the corporate gun lobby like they have never seen before.”
Next came the third question from the moderator about the relationship between gun access and suicide prevention. Booker shared that he once worked at a suicide prevention hotline, and stressed how important it is to break stigma, and touched on high veteran suicide rates. “We all are vulnerable, we all need help,” he said, in a surprisingly open address to collective mental health. “This is an issue we’ve got to bring more to the center of our nation.”
Booker also referenced the 18 black trans women murdered (mostly with guns) this year alone, as well as domestic violence. “Silence is deadly,” he stressed. “I see stigma in this nation on mental health in general in this country when we all are affected by mental health. I see stigmas in this country where we don't talk about the isolation people feel because of circumstances beyond their control. We need to have more courageous empathy for each other. We need to have leaders to talk about things front and center. If you elect me president, I’m going to ask more from you than any president in your lifetime,” he continued to the audience. “I’m going to ask you to serve more, love more, because patriotism is love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow men and women.”
At this point, Booker—and the audience—were radiating emotion and passion. Then came the audience questions, which brought it to another level. The first audience question came from Ruth, who is a survivor of domestic violence and gun reform advocate. Like Booker, she notes that women are five times more likely to lose their lives if a gun is in the home. “What I’d like to hear from you today, Senator Booker,” she asks after sharing her own story, “is what is your plan to disarm domestic violence?”
Booker replied by first thanking Ruth for her courage several times. “Through executive action, I will close the boyfriend loophole right away, and make sure that if you are convicted for stalking your girlfriend, you cannot buy a gun,” he stated, which met with a lot of audience applause. “I will use my pulpit to bring this out of the shadows,” he continued. “Do things to empower women to make sure that they can get out of dangerous situations.”
Booker also talked about intersectionality, and specifically, immigration, which is huge. He promised to expand visas to protect survivors of domestic violence who come forward.
Next came an audience question from a mother named Kristen which feels like it brought a tear to every single person listening. Kristen shared that her son died after being shot in the head by accident—a loaded gun had been left in the shoebox at a friend’s house, and while the boys were posing with the weapons in jest, one went off. “What role do you think the federal government should take in mandating safe storage practices,” Kristen asked the senator.
“There’s gotta be federal accountability on these issues,” Booker said in response. “We can end this nightmare and make that a mandatory federal law. We are implicated,” Booker stressed. “It’s not just the NRA, it’s not just the corporate gun lobby, it’s us too. … I promise you that I will bring a conviction and urgency every single day to this issue.”
Senator Booker’s gun reform ideas are, without a doubt, ambitious. Arguably, they’re the most progressive and expansive out of every major candidate running. In addition to the norms for the Democratic party, including an assault weapons ban, better law enforcement of the laws we already have, more gun violence research (and more funding for it), and universal background checks, Booker also wants to require gun owners to obtain a license before purchasing a gun, as discussed at length in the forum itself. This is a big step beyond just requiring gun owners to pass a background check.
Booker came to the stage prepared, passionate, and at times, emotional in the best, most moving way. Booker had an incredibly comprehensive gun control plan and his answers weren’t delivered in a wooden way—emotion roared from him and the audience reacted right back.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or need support, here are five free resources. Read more about each candidate’s performance at the Gun Forum here and here.