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Read time: 8 minutes

Cory Booker On Guns In America: 'A Society That Has Surrendered Basic Freedoms'

Senator Cory Booker joined Rachel Maddow for a discussion of the gun debate, and how to reframe it in a way that defines an absolute moral imperative.
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Cory Booker is one of the 2020 hopefuls with some experience in what it feels like to have way too many guns and far too many of them wielded by white supremacists. With the news of the shooting in Philadelphia yesterday that injured six cops and caused an hours-long standoff before the shooters surrendered to police custody, Rachel Maddow ditched her prepared questions for a discussion with Booker about gun control.

What stood out to me in this clip was his commitment to reframing the entire debate. No timid and plaintive murmurs about background checks. Instead, it was a bold indictment and call to action. As Booker says around the middle of the interview, "We've created such a culture of fear that's now penetrating all types of communities where we say the best we can do to our children now when they go to school in September is we can't protect you, so we're going to teach you how to duck for cover, shelter in place and the more," he lamented. "That is a society that has surrendered basic freedoms."

In addition to calling out the prevalence of white supremacist and domestic terror attacks, Booker condemned the entire framing of the debate.

"But now we see a moral impotency from too many leaders preventing common sense things from happening and creating a culture where no other developed nation talks the way we do about the common place of what we're seeing today, putting law enforcement at risk, children at risk, families, neighborhoods, communities. This must stop," he declared. He then called on Democrats to stop letting the gun lobby frame the debate and instead simply do what common sense dictates.

Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Val Demings also called for some common sense, flatly stating that these weapons of mass death have to be taken off the streets. It is time for this issue to be front and center during the 2020 campaign, because thoughts and prayers are not enough.

Full transcript:

MADDOW: I had a whole bunch of things I wanted to, like, set up and talk to you about and had all this elaborate storytelling. Because you are here, I actually want to ask you about this breaking news that we are covering. This story in Philadelphia. It appears to be an ongoing standoff. This has been going on for hours and hours. More than five hours at this point. Six police officers have been shot. It appears they all have non-life-threatening wounds. I want to ask your reaction to this. You've been talking so much about gun violence and criminal justice.
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BOOKER: Well, what's interesting as a guy who actually ran a police department, to see my officers put themselves in the line of fire quite literally, have situations like this where you go into a house, you don't know what's going on inside. I've seen some of the most courageous officers when I was mayor run into buildings where they have no situational awareness, encounter weapons that have no business being on our streets in the hands of people who would never have been able to get them if we had the most common sense background checks. So often the voices you hear calling for the kind of gun safety that I put in sort of my very bold plan are police officers wanting it to happen because their lives are getting increasingly dangerous. We're seeing -- our prayers should go out to these officers who are recovering. The standoff is still ongoing. Unfortunately, in our cities all across America, we see officers in situations of danger they should not be in and would not be in if we were a nation that had sensible gun safety law.

MADDOW: I feel like in gun reform discussions past, I'm old enough to remember the discussions around the first assault weapons ban. I'm also old enough to remember the discussion about cop-killing bullets, right, the hollow-point bullets, other sorts of bullets designed to pierce body armor. It felt like such an important part of that discussion, sort of part of the way that argument in the political sphere educated the public about these weapons was when law enforcement spoke out and said, listen, whatever you think about the second amendment, practically what's going on here, we're being outgunned and we need reasonable restrictions on what civilians have access to so we can be the no monopolists of force. I don't feel like I hear that from law enforcement now in the gun reform debate.

BOOKER: I'm hoping you're going to increasingly see voices from all over our society. The insanity of this all especially with the massive rise in white supremacist attacks now. Again, as a guy who was a mayor in a city that had too many shootings, we lower it, still lowering, still too many, what I saw which give me chills when we have got tips to do gun raids and found these gun storehouses where, again, these are all illegal weapons that flow into communities like my city and many others, and you just look at these stashes of weapons and you wonder how could we have a society where this is so easy for criminals intent on doing dangerous things so easily get weapons that do not belong -- they only belong in theaters of war, frankly. That puts officers at risk. Community members. And the thing I see is people having these weapons shooting them indiscriminately, cities like mine and other cities, bystanders, people showing you bullet holes in their windows. It creates an environment so crippled by fear and trauma that on Fourth of July in communities like mine across this country, you have people who hear fireworks and parents will tell you their children dive for cover. They cower. They hide. We created such a culture of fear that's now penetrating all types of communities where we say the best we can do to our children now when they go to school in September is we can't protect you, so we're going to teach you how to duck for cover, shelter in place and the more. That is a society that has surrendered basic freedoms. Freedom from violence. Freedom from gunfire. Freedom to live without this kind of constant cortisol in the back of your brain being released that undermines our quality of life. We are losing our wellbeing as a nation because so many of these guns now are on our streets. So easily gotten by people who intend to do massive amounts of harm.

MADDOW: Because there are so many out there already, I mean, I'm thinking about it tonight in Philly, we don't know what kind of arsenal this gunman has but know he's been able to hold off a police department for five hours and shoot six cops along the way. I mean, who knows --

BOOKER: You say that so casually. I don't think people understand --

MADDOW: Yeah.

BOOKER: -- what that means.

MADDOW: Yeah.

BOOKER: And that there are people right now, we see this now, we see the horrible results like we saw in el paso, we also hear stories, since El Paso, of people intervening to stop people plotting these kind of attacks. This is why we've released -- I hope people will go to corybooker.com. A far more comprehensive way to stop what's been a majority of our terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been right wing extremist groups, a majority have been white supremacist groups, we have a massive problem because of these guns on our streets that enable people who want to do sinister things and whether they're people in inner-city communities that make so many of us -- I've had shootings on my block. As the only senator who lives in a low-income inner-city community where, unfortunately, these guns are often too often easily obtained by people who have no right to buy them in the first place. People like me who live in communities where we see shootings or live now in a nation where we're afraid to go to a mall, a concert, our house of worship. There has to be an urgency to deal with this and the fact that we're saying things. I mean, we used to be a nation where people died -- 4 girls in a church in Birmingham pushed us to change laws. As King said, you can't legislate people to love me but I can legislate them to stop lynching me. People here in this city throwing themselves out the window at the Shirtwaist Factory Fire. We changed laws. We used to have this common empathy we could do what's necessary to give us freedom for the fears. But now we see a moral impotency from too many leaders preventing common sense things from happening and creating a culture where no other developed nation talks the way we do about the common place of what we're seeing today, putting law enforcement at risk, children at risk, families, neighborhoods, communities. This must stop. That's why I'm demanding really everyone in this Democratic Party don't let the corporate gun lobby frame this debate. Let us now frame what really is common sense.

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