Student activists from New Jersey’s 7th Congressional district hosted a town hall April 28 to discuss the issue of gun violence and gun legislation with Congressional candidates Goutam Jois (D), Tom Malinowski (D), Peter Jacob (D), Raafat Barsoom (R), and Lindsay Brown (R). The candidates fielded questions from the town hall moderator and Director of Operations for NJ07 Youth Colin Sumner during the two-hour event.
The incumbent Leonard Lance (R) declined the invitation to participate in the town hall, claiming a previous commitment. He chose instead to hold a separate town hall Friday, April 27, at 5:30 p.m. in Phillipsburg. Politico reports that Democrats see Lance as vulnerable; Malinowski is now seen as the front runner in the Democratic primary.
Candidates answered questions on their stance about current gun laws, the second amendment, urban gun violence and what they would work to change in the current regulations if elected. All candidates agreed there should be stronger background checks, with Lindsay Brown (R) suggesting making the process of owning a gun more rigorous. “Individuals should prove they are fit to own a gun rather than unfit,” she said.
Raafat Barsoom (R) suggested that the media purposely misleads the public on the danger of guns. He stated every lawful gun owner should automatically receive a concealed carry permit, including teachers as it would make potential school shooters “think twice.”
Barsoom drew sharp criticism from the crowd during his answer to the question of tackling urban gun violence. He maintained that the inner-city gun violence victims he treated as a trauma surgeon were predominantly involved in the “gang and drug culture of the African American and Haitian American” communities his hospital served. “Many of them came from single-family homes. They listen to rap and hip-hop music,” he said. The crowd erupted with calls for him to stop talking, accusing him of being a racist, before being quieted by Sumner, who reminded the audience that the student group invited candidates from both parties to hear their views.
Malinowski expressed optimism about changing gun laws. “We have a very conservative Supreme Court, very conservative federal courts,” he said. “All the regulations we’ve proposed they’ve okayed.” He also acknowledged the need to have discussions about inner-city gun violence. “It’s shameful we’re having this conversation today because of a shooting in a wealthy suburb in Florida when this happens every day in urban communities,” he said. “It’s equally shameful when a heroic black man is ignored — when we know that the President would have tweeted the hell out of it if he was a white guy, or if he had stopped a bunch of Muslim terrorists as he calls them — because it doesn’t fall into his narrative.”
Lindsay Brown (R) agreed with Malinowski: “As a white person addressing mostly white people, we have to discuss this amongst ourselves. We have to raise these voices,” she said.
Peter Jacobs (D) said he’s angered when people blame mental illness as the cause of gun violence or when gun rights advocates claim “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Said Jacobs, “Gabby Giffords is alive because her shooter was stopped by an injured 74-year-old man when he went to reload,” he argued. “An unarmed black man stopped the Waffle House shooter.”
Goutam Jois (D) recalled the day his young daughter told him they had practiced A.L.I.C.E. drills — alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate — in kindergarten. “They were training my little girl to run at a shooter. To yell and throw rocks and pencils. The idea is that she might die but slow the shooter down enough that other kids could escape,” he explained. “The second amendment doesn’t confer unlimited rights. It says a well-regulated militia, not just regulated but well regulated. Just like you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre, you damn well can’t bring an AR-15 into one.”