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US News Cory Booker on Virginia Beach shooting: 'We're not helpless to stop' gun violence

Luke Skywalker

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After 12 people were shot dead at a government building in Virginia Beach on Friday, contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination sought to present the case for gun control reform in terms of tackling everyday gun violence, rather than stopping mass shootings.

A mass shooting couldn’t happen in Virginia Beach … until it did
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At a Democratic state convention in San Francisco on Saturday, the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren was asked about Virginia Beach.

“It’s not just mass shootings,” she said, adding that each day in America, gun violence occurs “on sidewalks and playgrounds and people’s backyards. It’s happening family by family across the country. And it doesn’t get the same headlines. And that is wrong.”

The answer reflected a shift in progressive priorities that is colouring a crowded primary field. One candidate who has already presented a plan for gun control reform, New Jersey senator Cory Booker, devoted his speech in San Francisco to the question of reducing gun violence.

Speaking to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Booker said Virginia Beach was “a tragedy today but every day in the aggregate we have mass shootings that go on in neighbourhoods like mine … an inner-city black and brown community.

“We are not helpless to stop this. This is a uniquely American problem. We have carnage in our country that no other nation sees.”

Many would argue the US is in fact helpless to stop mass shootings, given political stasis over gun control reform under the crushing influence of the National Rifle Association, a rightward tilt on the supreme court and the Republican grip on the White House, Senate and many state governments.

In Virginia Beach, police said the gunman used two handguns and owned another weapon that were all purchased legally. He gained entry to the building where he killed 12 co-workers, they said, simply by using his security pass.

Booker has rolled out a 14-point plan that includes licensing reform and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

Speaking to CNN, he presented gun control as a public health issue, citing reform at state and city levels that has had measurable effect.

Booker insisted: “This idea that we are helpless to stop this, evidence points differently. We know that … licensing like Connecticut did, dropped gun violence in their state by 40%, suicides by 15%.”

He did not directly answer the question of how his plan might make mass shootings like that in Virginia Beach less likely. It would, he stressed, “drop the level of violence overall”.

“We’ve allowed the debate to be framed by the corporate gun lobby,” he said, “which has … eroded common sense … enough is enough. We can do things about this problem. We know it. The only thing lacking seems to be a sense of moral urgency. But unfortunately after what happened in Virginia Beach you see that growing.”

Many proponents of gun control were pitched into despair by Barack Obama’s failure to get even modest reform through Congress in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre of December 2012, in which 20 young children and six teachers were killed.

Asked how he would succeed as president where his Democratic predecessor so painfully failed, Booker said the cause of gun reform echoed “the civil rights movement” and the long time it took for landmark legislation to succeed in Congress.

“People said it couldn’t be done and there were states that were standing against it,” he said. “But you know what happened is that we had leaders who called to the moral imagination of our country, who called to the conscience of our nation, who built the kind of coalitions necessary to tear down segregation.

“Here we have a nation that has untold levels of carnage, and violence and shootings every single day, of suicides, 90 to 100 people dying every single day. I believe that just because we’ve failed in the past doesn’t mean we will fail in the future.

“I believe it takes grit and fight and will and we can muster that in the United States to do common sense things that do not take away people’s second amendment rights. The only people that should be afraid of the kind of legislation I’m pushing are gun runners, criminals and the corporate gun lobby.”

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