AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

Beto O’Rourke was hoping to generate headlines in Thursday night’s debate, and his “Hell yes we’re going to take away your AR-15’s” comment certainly succeeded. Beto’s been on TV quite a bit over the past couple of days to talk about his plan to ban and institute a compensated confiscation scheme to get ahold of every semi-automatic firearm he deems to be an “assault weapon”, and while reporters and anchors are starting to ask some slightly tough questions of O’Rourke, I think they’re still missing something really important.

O’Rourke believes the criminal justice system is unfair to minorities, and wants to expunge the records of individuals arrested for marijuana offenses, yet he wants to make owning the most popular rifle in America akin to owning illicit drugs.

Beto says under his plan, police aren’t going door to door to get guns, and claimed that doesn’t happen with any other law on the books. While it’s true police don’t go “door to door” to see if people are complying with laws, they do go to some doors based on investigations into violations of the law. Is Beto familiar with the term “no knock raid”, for instance? Of course it’s silly to think of the police knocking on every door in a city hoping to find firearms. But what happens when police get a tip about someone who owns an AR-15 after Beto bans them? Are cops going to go to that door? Will owning a banned firearm be treated more like someone who owns a little bit of weed for personal use, or more like an actual dealer and supplier of illegal drugs?

Then there’s Cory Booker and his proposed federal gun licensing law. Booker proclaimed just a few days ago that the criminal justice system is racially biased, and during the first Democrat debate declared that this country has criminalized too many things.

“Our country has made so many mistakes by criminalizing things — whether it’s immigration, whether it’s mental illness, whether it’s addiction,” he said. “We know that this is not the way to deal with problems. There is a humane way that affirms human rights and human dignity and actually solves this problem.”

It’s really hard to square “we’ve made too many things against the law” with “if you don’t get a permission slip from the government before you own a gun I’ll put you in prison.” How exactly would a federal gun licensing law be exempt from the racial bias Booker sees in the rest of the criminal justice system? We already have evidence that New York’s licensing law, for instance, is ensnaring mostly mostly young black men without any previous felony convictions.

Here’s what predicted who ended up on the benches in gun court: race and age. Black people are less likely to own guns than white people, but the defendants in gun court were almost all black teenagers and young men. An initiative that sounded like a targeted attack on America’s gun problem looked up close more like stop-and-frisk or the war on drugs—one more way to round up young black men. Reviewing my book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik suggested that a kid locked up for a drug offense would have made a more representative subject. But drug charges are the old way of shunting people to prison. Gun possession, and similar offenses that states treat as violent, is the new way.  And the 20-year-old whose case I followed wasn’t “the wrong kid” from the point of view of the system or the politicians that built it. His case was typical in gun court, because he was exactly the kind of person the mayor’s plan was designed to ensnare.

Joe Biden says nobody should be in prison for a non-violent crime, yet he wants to ban magazines that can hold multiple bullets, while Pete Buttigieg wants to reduce the number of incarcerated Americans by 50%, but also wants to enact a federal gun licensing program that would criminalize any of the 100-million or so legal gun owners who don’t comply.

Senator Amy Klobuchar has repeatedly said that her gun control plans must be okay, because they wouldn’t have any impact on her Uncle Dick in a deer stand. That sounds awfully white privilege-y to me. Even if she believes her Uncle Dick (who has apparently been stuck in that deer stand for months and months) wouldn’t be impacted by her anti-gun proposals, does she really believe that a young black man in Minneapolis should face a federal felony for simply possessing a 20-round magazine?

Kamala Harris believes that law enforcement and the criminal justice system must address its implicit bias, but she’s also convinced that she can put a half-dozen or more new non-violent federal felony offenses in place without that implicit bias having any sort of effect on who will be most likely to face arrest and charges for possessing a banned magazine or for transferring a firearm without a background check.

In fact, virtually every one of the Democrats running for president say they want to reform the criminal justice system while also putting new laws on the books that could turn millions of Americans into criminals overnight. They believe the War on Drugs has been a bad idea, but they want to double down on the stupidity by launching a War on Guns in its place. Perhaps during the next debate one of the moderators can ask the candidates why they believe that replacing non-violent drug offenses with non-violent gun offenses would work out any better for our incarceration rates, our constitutional rights, and our public safety.

 

 

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