U.S. Sen. Cory Booker

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tested the presidential waters with a stop at the Keene home of Bill and JoAnn Fenton in December 2018.

Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker proposed sweeping reforms to gun ownership Monday and plans to pitch his prescription to New Hampshire voters this weekend.

The New Jersey senator’s 14-part plan would regulate guns as a public health issue and require licenses for all gun owners, according to a blog post Booker wrote on Medium, a free publishing website.

Booker is slated to return to Keene Saturday for a house party before delivering Southern New Hampshire University’s commencement address in Manchester Sunday.

The campaign did not provide further details Monday on the upcoming Keene visit.

“Granite Staters, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, support common sense gun safety measures that will help keep our schools and communities safe,” Booker said in a statement emailed to The Sentinel. “My plan to address gun violence is simple — we will make it harder for people who should not have a gun to get one. I look forward to discussing this plan and listening to New Hampshire residents when I’m back in Keene on Saturday.”

To be implemented through a mix of legislative measures and executive orders, Booker’s plan centers around regulating guns in a manner similar to automobiles, medicine and other consumer products.

A gun ownership license, under his proposal, would require fingerprints, a background check and the completion of a gun safety course. States that already have a licensing program would be able to keep it as long as it meets federal standards.

In addition to banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, Booker’s 14 steps also include regulations on handguns, which account for the vast majority of firearm homicides in the United States, according to FBI data. Booker wants all newly produced handguns to include micro-stamping, which allows shell casings to be traceable to a specific gun, and to limit gun buyers to one handgun per month to reduce gun trafficking.

Beyond proposing prohibitory measures, Booker also outlines in his Medium post how gun violence should be studied as a public health issue, with a promise to invest more in research.

The Republican National Committee was quick to hit back at his proposal.

“Just when you think the 2020 field could not get anymore out there, Cory Booker comes in with a plan to use executive action filled with new restrictions and permits on law-abiding gun-owners,” Nina McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the RNC, wrote in an email. “For Booker to launch his big government grab on our constitutional rights before his return to New Hampshire just shows he does not get the Granite State and its core values.”

Brad Borofsky, owner of Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters in Swanzey and Brattleboro, took a more nuanced view.

As a gun vendor, he said he would be open to some of Booker’s proposals, such as establishing a licensing system nationwide and applying an equal standard to sellers regarding background checks.

“My biggest concern has always been that, as an independent dealer, we just want to have a fair, level playing field, and the universal background checks would include everyone,” Borofsky said Monday.

Sam’s has not sold handguns for two decades, he said, and as an outlet geared toward hunters, will not sell assault rifles, either. The handguns made the stores a target for robberies, Borofsky said, while keeping assault rifles off the shelves was a “conscious decision.”

Over the years, Borofsky said he has seen firearms sales spike when gun owners fear a regulatory clampdown. Regardless of whether any federal legislation or executive orders come to fruition, he said, polarizing rhetoric can make compromise difficult to settle upon.

One recurring problem Borofsky said he’s noticed is that gun owners can struggle to explain their perspective to gun control advocates who aren’t as literate in the differences between firearms.

“It’s hard to have a debate when somebody doesn’t understand the difference between semi-automatic and automatic (weapons),” he said.

Conor T. Hill, president of the senior class at Keene High School — who was involved in last year’s March for Our Lives protests against gun violence — said gun owners cannot be ignored by gun control activists in the policy debate and should be brought to the table.

Hill, 18, of Winchester, said he appreciates having grown up in a culture of responsible firearm use, where he was taught how to handle a gun safely as a middle-schooler, even though he doesn’t own one or go target shooting as a young adult.

That notion of responsibility, Hill said, is what he likes about Booker’s plan to require licenses for gun owners and to regulate firearm manufacturers under the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

But Republican state Rep. John Hunt said he sees Booker’s proposal as a misstep, particularly among “Live Free or Die” Granite Staters.

“The Democrats have passed a lot of nanny bills this year, and gun control is certainly in the ‘nanny’ category,” Hunt said in comparing his Statehouse colleagues to Booker in what he considers legislative overreach.

Hunt recalled another Statehouse anecdote to further his point.

“I always find it ironic when everyone was talking about marijuana, and how everybody said ‘prohibitions don’t work,’ “ Hunt said. “And yet, you know, people want prohibition on guns as though that’s going to be a solution to gun violence.”

For Hill, a solution is long overdue, and in a crowded primary field, Booker’s proposal is a significant signal to younger voters. Many of them, like himself, have mobilized around gun safety during walk-outs on campuses across the country.

“This issue is very, very important to my generation. It’s very real for my generation,” Hill said, adding that he has noticed lockdown drills in school becoming more serious since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.

“I think that candidates that put bold proposals forward and can have a serious conversation about this, it’s definitely going to stick out to my generation and my age group.”

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.