AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Senator Cory Booker’s been going after former Vice-President Joe Biden for weeks now, hoping to portray the Democrat frontrunner as an impediment to civil rights throughout his long political career; from busing in the 70s to his support for the 1994 crime bill. It’s suddenly become conventional wisdom on the Left that the crime bill was a bad thing that led to mass incarceration (Kamala Harris has also attacked Biden over the bill), though they still like the part that banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns defined as “assault weapons”.
Booker’s latest Twitter broadside against Biden promises huge changes if he’s elected. The criminal justice system as we know it will be “dismantled”!
It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years. You created this system. We’ll dismantle it.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 23, 2019
No, he won’t dismantle the system. Under Booker’s proposals, cannabis would be legalized, mandatory minimum sentences would disappear, as would the death penalty. He promises “reform” of the juvenile justice system, and a new policy that doesn’t treat rock cocaine more harshly than powder in terms of sentences.
Maybe this will lead to fewer arrests of young men of color. I don’t know. But I do know one thing. If Cory Booker thinks the criminal justice system is inherently biased against young men of color, then he really needs to recognize something that will be an uncomfortable truth to him: his gun control proposals are going to put more men of color behind bars than any of his drug reforms will set free.
Cory Booker’s gun control plan begins with a national licensing program.
Here’s how it would work: 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. 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 license would be valid for up to five years before renewal with regular, automatic checks to flag non-compliance with license terms.
Recognizing that many states have already implemented state licensure programs, states could continue to do so, provided that they meet baseline federal standards.
Note that states like New Jersey, which has a more stringent Firearms ID program, would be able to keep their more restrictive laws in place, but the majority of states that don’t have any licensing laws in place would be required to implement “baseline” federal standards which would undoubtably become more restrictive at any given opportunity in the future.
According to the gun control group Giffords, violence in New Jersey is concentrated “in low-income urban areas, which are predominantly populated by people of color.” Arrests for the crime of possessing a firearm without a license also predominantly take place in those areas, particularly in high crime locales like Camden and Newark. But not everyone charged with possession of a firearm is a violent criminal. In fact, most of them aren’t. Some of them are. Some of them may be on that path. But some of them are carrying a gun without a license because they’re scared. Because they want to protect themselves or their family. And Cory Booker wants to see them in prison.
Booker doesn’t mention what the penalty would be for violating his law and possessing a gun without a federal gun license, but in his state of New Jersey it’s a potential 5-10 year prison sentence for a first offense. Simply possessing a gun without getting licensed by the state is a felony in New Jersey, and a complete non-issue in the vast majority of states that don’t have any laws requiring a license before you can own a firearm.
Across the Hudson River in New York, Emily Bazelon of Slate has been investigating what goes on at the Brooklyn Gun Court, where a steady stream of individuals arrested on simple possession charge are hauled in front of a judge. Guess what she found out?
Black people are less likely to own guns than white people, but the defendants in gun court were almost all black teenagers and young men. An initiative that sounded like a targeted attack on America’s gun problem looked up close more like stop-and-frisk or the war on drugs—one more way to round up young black men. Reviewing my book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik suggested that a kid locked up for a drug offense would have made a more representative subject. But drug charges are the old way of shunting people to prison. Gun possession, and similar offenses that states treat as violent, is the new way.
If a federal licensing law were put on the books, I have to tell you, I don’t think it would be easy to enforce where I live in rural Virginia. In fact, I suspect we’d see thousands of “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” counties pop up around the country to tell the federal government that if they want a federal gun licensing law enforced in the county, they’re gonna have to do it themselves.
Instead, the federal licensing laws are going to be mostly enforced in the same places where the state-level licensing laws are enforced; low-income urban areas which are predominantly populated by people of color. And if Cory Booker gets his way, he’s gonna disproportionately put more of them in prison.
Senator Booker, if you’re reading, there is another way. It involves targeted enforcement of the most violent offenders in those high crime neighborhoods, offering them a choice; help to change their life for the better or a long prison stay. But let’s go one step further. Let’s actually rebuild a culture of responsible gun ownership in these low-income, high crime neighborhoods. Guys like Maj Toure of Black Guns Matter and Kevin Dixie of No Other Choice Firearms Training are just a few of the many individuals who are already trying to do just that. Imagine what they could accomplish if they had your support.
We talk about these neighborhoods being food deserts, pharmacy deserts, and job deserts, but they’re also range deserts. There’s no place to go to learn how to be responsible with a firearm, and there probably aren’t that many guys carrying who lead by example. There’s no place for them to get education and training, to perhaps even shoot in a league instead of on the streets. Help change that.
And let’s recognize that not only are your licensing laws not going to be obeyed by violent criminals, they’re also not going to be obeyed by some otherwise law-abiding citizens. Don’t tell me that in all your years in Newark, you’ve never met someone who owned a gun without a license simply for self-protection. And please don’t tell me you think you’re going to see massive compliance with any national gun licensing scheme in the states where no license is currently required. It’s just not going to happen. The end result of your plan, whether you like it or not, would be enforcement in Democrat run cities, and it’ll be mostly young men of color bearing the biggest and disproportionate impact.