Second-Tier Candidates Spar Over Who's Best On Gun Control

Neither candidate is polling in double digits, and one of them managed a whopping 1% in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, so Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke are happy to go after one another over gun control. It’s the most media attention they’ve gotten in weeks, and they’re both hoping it will translate into greater support in the polls. Right now it’s a three way race between Biden, Sanders, and Warren, and neither Buttigieg nor O’Rourke have set the electorate aflame with desire for their candidacies. Why not create some drama to generate some headlines?

Asked in South Carolina about O’Rourke’s recent criticisms, Buttigieg said Tuesday he’s “focused on what we can do right now, because I don’t think we can wait.” He also said he “could care less” how Republicans might react to gun control reforms and that he’s “talking not just about politics, but about governing” and “what we can do right now.”

O’Rourke has derided Buttigieg’s desire to push background checks instead of a ban and a compensated confiscation plan, calling out unnamed, but clearly identified politicians who are “triangulating, poll-testing, focus-group driving their response”. And while O’Rourke has certainly gotten his fair share of headlines since admitting he wants to take guns away from legal gun owners, it hasn’t exactly translated to a bump in the polls. In a Morning Consult poll conducted after last Thursday’s debate, O’Rourke climbed from 3% to 4% (which is also within the poll’s margin of error). In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday, however, O’Rourke couldn’t even muster 2% of the vote.

O’Rourke isn’t the only one calling for a ban and a compensated confiscation program anymore, either.

Kamala Harris said on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show on Monday that a buyback program is a “good idea,” and Cory Booker supports such a proposal.

But O’Rourke is pressing the case for buy-backs most forcefully, and the opportunity to draw a contrast with Buttigieg is especially significant to his campaign. O’Rourke and Buttigieg are battling to be the choice of voters seeking a generational change. They are also young, white men who lean less heavily on their resumes than on their biographies and next-generation appeal.

In other words, they’re occupying the same lane.  Or as one Democrat strategist put it, “Isn’t this like the Spiderman meme, where the two spider men are pointing at each other?”

Meanwhile, despite all the handwringing on the left about whether or not O’Rourke’s comments have hurt the chances of gun control getting to Donald Trump’s desk, no gun control group is actually coming out in disagreement with Beto’s ban. If there’s any complaint, it’s just about the timing, not the content, of Beto’s remarks.

Gun control activists are split on whether mandatory buy-back programs would prove as effective as other reforms like background checks and red flag laws. But a spokesman for Everytown for Gun Safety told Fox News that though “presidential candidates are talking about a number of policies to address gun violence in America,” background checks and a federal red flag laws “need to be the Senate’s first priorities.”

In other words, don’t go out of order. First come background checks and red flag laws, then comes the gun ban and compensated confiscation, along with gun licensing, registration, ammunition restrictions, and more. I don’t think either O’Rourke or Buttigieg would have any objections to any of the items on the gun control wish list. The only real disagreement between the two is in what order the gun control laws should go. Buttigieg is willing to go along with the strategy of gun control groups, but O’Rourke feels like he needs to be bolder. If he doesn’t see a bounce in the next couple of post-debate polls, who knows? Maybe he’ll take my advice and go full repeal.