CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Democratic presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Cory Booker emphasized community and called for action Friday during a roundtable discussion on gun violence prevention in North Carolina.
“Hurt people often hurt people,” Booker told a crowded room in Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, garnering the first of many impassioned utterances of “say it again!” from one woman in the crowd.
Booker, like most other Democratic presidential candidates, has already visited South and North Carolina several times throughout the early stages of the 2020 campaign, trying to win the support of voters in the crucial early primary states.
His latest campaign event, hosted in an area of North Carolina notorious for having endured many gun-related homicides, began with a prayer.
The New Jersey senator of nearly six years announced his 14-part plan to curb gun violence on Monday, dubbed by his campaign as the most sweeping gun violence prevention proposal ever advanced by a presidential candidate.
The first part of the plan aims to create a national system that would require gun buyers to first obtain a license as one would to drive a car or get a passport.
Booker told Charlotte residents on Friday that, if elected president, he will ban civilian purchases of military-grade assault rifles and limit gun purchases to one handgun per week.
“You only have two hands,” he added.
Booker said he wants to do away with gun-sales loopholes that exist on a state-to state basis, and mentioned that federal law does not prevent stalkers from obtaining guns. Similarly, he said people with misdemeanors can buy guns across state lines.
“The opposite of justice is not injustice, but inaction,” Booker emphasized, a sentiment echoed by community members who joined the panel.
Backlash against Booker’s gun-reform proposals emerged soon after it was announced. He said the National Review refused to publish his op-ed responding to an article that called his proposals “dangerous.”
On Friday, the presidential candidate said his plan would not violate Second Amendment, which he said calls for the “well-regulated” bearing of arms.
His visit to Charlotte came 10 days after a gunman opened fire in a University of North Carolina at Charlotte classroom, killing two students and leaving four wounded. Trystan Terrell, 22, has been charged with two counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder.
Riley Howell, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet at UNC-Charlotte was killed after charging the shooter and has been hailed as a hero for saving many lives. He was buried with military honors. Reed Parlier, 19, was also killed in the shooting.
During Friday’s roundtable, Booker focused on relationship-driven social services, including mental health and prison reform, and more narrowly targeted law enforcement interventions.
When asked if increased policing would negatively affect black communities, Booker said he would work to reduce the double standard related to black men being shot by officers for carrying firearms in an open-carry state.
Booker said he is different than his Democratic rivals because he has personally witnessed the bloodshed caused by gun violence while living in Newark, New Jersey, and Hendersonville, North Carolina, with his father. Booker was mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013.
“If America has not broken your heart, you don’t love her enough,” he said.
Booker was joined on the panel by former state Senator Malcolm Graham, whose sister Cynthia was murdered by gunman Dylann Roof in the 2015 Charleston church shooting.
“Charlotte is not immune to this type of reckless disregard for life,” Graham said.
Samantha Weissman, founder of UNC-Charlotte’s Higher Peace organization, was sitting outside Kennedy Hall when she heard gunshots erupt from the building on April 30.
Booker hugged her when she told him her story.
Weissman said the presidential hopeful’s tangible plans swayed her towards supporting him even though she had been a Bernie Sanders supporter for years.
She told Courthouse News minutes seemed like hours between the time she heard the shots and began to flee alongside hundreds of fellow students after receiving an emergency text alert.
Booker said Friday it would be difficult for students to pass by Kennedy Hall after the shooting. Weissman said it is hard to simply exist after experiencing that, but she will not let the shooter prevent her from returning to campus, which she considers her home.