Just last week 10 people were shot in a six-day spasm of violence in Jersey City. A gun violence prevention forum brought together law enforcement, elected officials, mental health experts and school officials around gun safety reforms. They talked about multiple solutions for preventing gun violence from expanding criminal background checks, to advancing gun safety technology, to gun buyback programs. It was convened by Representative Donald Payne Jr. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Thank you for being with us.
Payne: Oh thank you for having me.
Williams: Why at three and a half years after Newtown, after all the mass shootings has Congress failed to address the issue of gun violence prevention?
Payne: You know it’s very interesting that you mentioned that. That was the point I raised yesterday. Very disturbed by the lack of movment that Congress has made towards sensible gun legislation. If we cannot act after seeing the horrific scene in Newtown there is something very wrong in this country.
Williams: Why haven’t they acted?
Payne: It appears that the gun lobby has a lot to do with what my colleagues in Congress will and won’t do. It seems that the NRA has a stranglehold on a majority of the Congress and just even 70 percent of NRA members say that they’re for a sensible gun legislation but the leadership will not move.
Williams: What did the forum yesterday teach you?
Payne: Well it was a great exchange between the stakeholders that you mentioned. Just pushed me — really a listening experience for myself so I could go back to Washington and continue to advocate for what the stakeholders want to see happen. Actually, it was just a great opportunity for me to get information that can help me potentially form legislation and continue the fight against the surge.
Williams: Gun violence prevention hasn’t really been mentioned even during the presidential campaign. Why is that?
Payne: Well we see what’s happening all over the nation, as you mentioned the issue in Jersey City over the last week or two. But look at Chicago, look at Los Angles. You could see if it was an issue just in New Jersey or just in New York but it’s pervasive across the nation. So, it really becomes a health issue as we have deemed it for most of us that are important.
Williams: Why hasn’t it been front and center on the presidential campaign? Why haven’t the candidates talked about it?
Payne: Well, I can’t answer that. I continue to talk about it because it’s what my constituents feel is important and so I can only do my part.
Williams: The New Jersey primary usually doesn’t have much impact because everything is done by the time they get to us at the end. You’re a supporter of Hillary Clinton.
Williams: What do you think? How do you gauge the primary?
Payne: Well I’m very excited to see New Jersey being in play in one of these elections this year. It is going to be New Jersey that gives Mrs. Clinton the number of delegates that she needs to become the nominee of the Democratic Party. So we are very excited about that.
Williams: But if Bernie Sanders wins — he’s very close in California — if something happens at the convention and he wins will you support him?
Payne: Well we will have to see if that happens. I’ll support the nominee of the Democratic Party.
Williams: You’ve said that Bernie Sanders is being a divisive force in the Democratic Party. What do you mean by that?
Payne: Well first of all, he is not a Democrat. Let’s make that clear. He is running as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. He’s never been a Democrat. He’s voted for Democrats in the Senate from time to time. He’s, it’s really at this point destroying the Democratic Party. Nine times out of 10 by the time that we’ve gotten to this point in the process most Democrats would have bowed out and let Mrs. Clinton move forward. Not being a Democrat appears he doesn’t understand the process and just continues this fight and it’s really fracturing the Democratic Party, a party that he’s never been a part of.
Williams: Finally another member of the New Jersey congressional delegation, Sen. Cory Booker, is on the short list for Hillary’s vice president. What do you think?
Payne: Well, I think he’s been a great ally for Mrs. Clinton during this process. He’s traveled all over the country and he is — as we know here in New Jersey — always makes a compelling argument when he supports someone or something. So I think he’s been very helpful for her throughout the nation.
Williams: OK, Representative Donald Payne Jr. Thanks for being here.
Payne: Thank you for having me.