Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey proposed Monday that all gun owners be licensed by the federal government, grabbing attention for his struggling campaign by delving into the gun control debate that has flummoxed Democratic presidential hopefuls for decades.
Firearm licenses topped a long list of measures that Mr. Booker prescribed for what he called the “epidemic of gun violence.”
He also wants to limit Americans to one gun purchase per month, crack down on firearm manufactures, ban military-style semi-automatic rifles and beef up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to go after gun dealers.
He pledged that on his first day as president he would bypass Congress and take executive action to restrict gun sales and crack down on unscrupulous dealers and gun manufacturers.
“I’m coming at this full bore. Enough of this seeming to resign ourselves to this level of carnage in America,” Mr. Booker told CBS News.
Mr. Booker will lead a roundtable discussion of his gun control plan Friday in North Carolina, where a gunman opened fire last week on a university campus, killing two and wounding four.
The sweeping plan thrust Mr. Booker into the spotlight for a potential breakout moment for a presidential run that has languished in the low single digits in polls.
But the move risked alienating gun-owning Democrats in early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire and raised doubts about his electability in a general election matchup with President Trump, who supports gun rights.
“It is hard to believe that this proposal will go over well here in Iowa. Too many hunters who are also Democrats,” said Daniel Callahan, chairman of the Democratic Party in Buchanan County. “Mainstream Democrats will walk away from this campaign.”
He said Mr. Booker appeared to be attempting to “catch lightning in a bottle” and move up from the lower tier of candidates in the crowded 2020 field.
Peter Ambler, executive director of the gun control advocacy group Giffords, said Mr. Booker sent a “strong message” that fighting gun violence was a top priority.
“Talking about gun laws was once a political third rail. Heading into 2020, it’s a political must,” he said.
Democrats have approached the issue gingerly since 2000, when many in the party blamed Al Gore’s gun control zeal for turning off white Southern male voters and costing him the presidential election.
After that, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry in 2004 flaunted a pro-gun stance with duck hunting outings on the campaign trail, and Barack Obama in 2008 proclaimed, “I believe in the Second Amendment.”
The power of the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby has prevented most gun control laws from passing Congress. The last major action was the 1994 ban on so-called assault rifles, which expired in 2004.
Repeated pushes to renew the ban failed, as did repeat attempts to expand background checks, including after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were slain.
Most of the more than 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for those steps.
Mr. Booker’s firearm license proposal, however, goes further than that of any other presidential candidate in recent history.
Firearm licenses, which Mr. Booker likened to driver’s licenses, would require fingerprinting, background checks and the completion of a government-sanctioned gun safety course.
“My plan to address gun violence is simple: We will make it harder for people who should not have a gun to get one,” Mr. Booker said.
His plan also would:
⦁ Increase government regulation and oversight to gun manufacturers, including allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to enforce safety standards and issue recall orders for faulty firearms.
⦁ End legal immunity that prevents victims of gun violence from suing sellers and manufacturers of firearms.
⦁ Require handgun microstamping, a technology that enables law enforcement to identify the source of ammunition used in crimes by making a shell casing traceable to the specific gun that fired the round.
⦁ Expand laws that prevent people accused of domestic violence to include dating partners.
⦁ Overhaul the ATF with increased funding, repeal of restriction on its authority to investigate crimes and crack down on gun dealers.
Following up on a vow to “bring a fight” to the NRA, Mr. Booker said he would call on the IRS to look into revoking its tax-exempt status.
Republicans and gun rights advocates dismissed the plan as a stunt and a power grab.
“Just when you think the 2020 field could not get any more out there, Cory Booker comes in with a plan to use executive action filled with new restrictions and permits on law-abiding gun owners. Voters across the country will see this as another big government grab on our constitutional rights,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, called the Booker plan “demagoguery on steroids.”
“He doesn’t want to crack down on criminals; he wants to create new ones with the stroke of a pen,” he said. “Booker’s brainstorm is nothing more than a combination of every pie-in-the-sky idea on the gun control wish list.”
Mr. Gottlieb said that even more alarming than Mr. Booker’s assault on the Second Amendment was that none of the other Democrats in the race denounced it.
“If they all agree with Booker, they need to admit it now so voters realize they are all willing to trample on the Bill of Rights,” he said.
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