Gun Control

Cory Booker Wants Mandatory Federal Licenses for Prospective Gun Owners

And that's just one of the measures outlined in his new gun control proposal.


New Jersey senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker released a sweeping gun control plan today. Its most noteworthy aspect is a proposal that all prospective gun owners be required to obtain a federal license, which they'd have to renew every five years.

The plan also calls for bans on "assault weapons," high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks (which President Donald Trump has already prohibited), as well as universal background checks and other measures.

Booker's campaign compares buying a gun to driving a car, arguing that "just as a driver's license demonstrates a person's eligibility and proficiency to drive a car, a gun license demonstrates that a person is eligible and can meet certain basic safety and training standards necessary to own a gun." Under Booker's system, anyone who wants a gun would have to prove he or she has passed a gun safety course. In addition to giving information on their background, applicants would also submit fingerprints.

If approved, prospective gun buyers would be issued a license. "The license would be valid for up to five years before renewal with regular, automatic checks to flag non-compliance with license terms," the proposal says. Under another part of the plan, no one would be able to buy more than one handgun a month, though this restriction presumably wouldn't apply to rifles and shotguns.

Booker would essentially create a federal firearms registry, an idea that raises serious civil liberties concerns. As Reason's J.D. Tucille explained in December 2017:

We live in a world governed by officials who love exercising power to punish people they dislike. To put yourself on a registry of people who engage in activities, or own goods, that are even mildly controversial is to make yourself vulnerable to such officials. It identifies you as a target for such people, and outs you in a position to be singled out for special treatment.

Booker's call for universal background checks is also notable. Federal law already requires a background check at the point of sale for people looking to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer. But Booker wants to close the supposed "gun-show loophole," which allows prospective buyers to obtain a gun from an unlicensed dealer without undergoing a background check. He also wants to end the so-called "Charleston loophole," which got its name after a man murdered nine people in a Charleston church in 2015. The shooter was a prior offender, but his background check took longer than three days, meaning he was able to legally buy a gun.

Requiring universal background checks may sound great in theory, but it's a bad idea in practice.As Reason's Jacob Sullum explains here, the requirement is impossible to enforce. It would also likely bar nonviolent offenders and people who admit to having had suicidal tendencies from buying a gun. And of course, truly violent criminals who obtain their guns illegally will probably just continue to do so.

As noted above, Booker also wants to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks. These platforms, particularly the first, are hallmarks of Democratic calls for gun control, despite the fact that the term "assault weapon" itself is really just a scary name for an arbitrary group of firearms. Banning high-capacity magazines, meanwhile, raises the question of what the government will do to ensure that people turn in the ones they already own.

Booker's plan also takes aim at the gun industry. "Firearms are exempt" from federal regulations, his campaign claims, and this allegedly means "gun manufacturers have little incentive to make their products safer." Booker "will work to close this loophole in federal oversight and allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure gun safety by making safety warnings and issuing recalls for faulty firearms." The candidate also wants firearm sellers and manufacturers to face civil liability for gun violence.

There are several other elements to Booker's plan. It would, for example, "incentivize states" to pass laws making it easier for "family members or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals showing warning signs of hurting themselves or others." These "red flag" bills have become law in some states, such as Colorado, and Reason's Sullum has explained why the process used to take away people's guns based on their future behavior is rigged from the start.

You can read the Booker campaign's full proposal here.