New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has released a plan to combat gun violence. Alongside some familiar proposals — including universal background checks on gun purchases and bans on semi-automatic rifles (“assault weapons”) and high-capacity magazines — he has some bolder ideas, and these could do even more to advance the cause of gun safety. His plan is a welcome addition to the debate on gun violence in the Democratic presidential campaign and in the nation at large.
First among Booker’s more ambitious ideas is a federal permit-to-purchase law that would require every gun owner to have a license. He compares the licensing process to “applying for or renewing a passport.” Applicants would submit fingerprints, provide background information and complete a rudimentary gun-safety course. The Federal Bureau of Investigation would vet the information, perform a background check and issue a firearm license valid for up to five years.
The process would be similar to those already in place in several states with low rates of gun violence, including Hawaii and Massachusetts. Research suggests that licensing is among the most effective means of reducing gun violence and homicide; it correlates with lower levels of suicide as well. And systems like this needn’t be burdensome to legal gun ownership: Where they’re in place, an overwhelming majority of applicants are approved for gun possession.
Booker also wants new semi-automatic handguns to be micro-stamped, which would mark ammunition when it’s fired, enabling law enforcement agencies to trace a shell casing to the gun that fired it. Current law forbids a spouse or ex-spouse under a restraining order or convicted of abuse from purchasing a firearm. Booker wants to extend this to current and former dating partners. And he wants to remove the gun industry’s exceptionally broad immunity from legal actions by repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
This all makes sense. Research continues to document wide disparities in gun violence among states with carefully constructed gun-safety regulations and those with shoddy laws (as frequently advanced by the gun lobby), and the case for robust federal regulation becomes ever clearer. Booker’s plan would protect gun rights while making it harder for violent people to get firearms — the simple goal that all reform proposals should be measured against.