National Politics

Days after UNCC shooting, a presidential candidate brings gun control message to Charlotte

Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker brought his ambitious gun-control message to Charlotte Friday, speaking to a receptive audience that included a victim of last week’s shooting at UNC Charlotte.

“In presidential campaigns, win or lose, you have a chance to shape the national conversation,” Booker told people at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. “The corporate gun lobby has shaped this debate for too long.”

Earlier this week, the U.S. senator from New Jersey rolled out a comprehensive 14-part plan that, among other things, calls for licensing gun ownership, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and closing loopholes.

His appearance came 10 days after a UNCC shooting left two students dead and four wounded. One of the injured students, Emily Houpt, was in the audience of around 200 people. She wasn’t the only one who’d been touched by gun violence. Moderating the event was former state Sen. Malcolm Graham, whose sister, Cynthia Hurd, was among nine victims of the 2015 shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church.

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Presidential hopeful Cory Booker speaks with constituents at a town hall meeting at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Friday. Tracy Kimball

Booker, the former mayor of Newark, N.J., talked about his own experience with gun violence. He was walking with his father in Newark one night, he said, when he heard shots. He found a boy on the sidewalk covered with blood. He tried to stanch his wound until medics arrived.

Booker’s plan calls for universal background checks and closing loopholes he said “that you could drive a Mack truck full of weapons through.”

Cade Lee, UNCC’s chapter director of March for Our Lives, said he’s glad “to see there’s somebody putting this at the forefront of their political campaign.” But at least one Democratic rival, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, has taken issue with Booker’s proposal to license firearms owners. He told Fox News that “may be too far.”

Booker defended the idea.

“If you need a license to drive a car, you should have a license to operate a gun,” he said.

Booker, whose father grew up in Hendersonville, said it would probably take a “movement election” fueled by concern over gun laws to change them. Speaking to reporters later, he decried what he called the “insanity” of American gun laws.

“The question is, how many more school shootings do we need to have?” he said. “How many more college campuses going on lockdown. How many more churches and synagogues and mosques do we need to see violence in until we as a nation say ‘Enough is enough’? I’m at at that point.”

Kristine Slade, UNCC’s former senior class president, would agree.

Part of a panel that discussed the issue with Booker, she reminded people that students will always be reminded of the incident. “We still have to walk by Kennedy,” she said, referring to the building where the shooting occurred.

“A lot of students already felt the grief and the sadness,” she said. “Now they’re pissed and want something done.”