The big topic at last night’s Democrat debate was Donald Trump and impeachment, but the question of gun control and guns did come up while the candidates were on stage in Columbus, and it prompted a somewhat heated exchange between Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg.
O’Rourke, who’s polling around 2% in most surveys, also had a weak 3rd quarter as far as fundraising goes, bringing in less than $5-million dollars. That puts him behind not only frontrunners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, but even 2nd or 3rd tier candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang. O’Rourke’s been trying to pick a fight with Buttigieg over the South Bend mayor’s lack of support for a mandatory “buyback” or compensated confiscation scheme, but it was Buttigieg who threw the first verbal punch Tuesday evening.
Buttigieg faulted O’Rourke for failing to explain how his proposal would get weapons “off the streets.” He said Democrats need to instead focus on quickly and effectively pushing less controversial gun safety measures, like universal background checks for gun transactions and so-called “red flag” laws.
“We cannot wait for purity tests,” the mayor said. “We have to just get something done.”
The last comment visibly irked O’Rourke, who pushed back on the idea that his buyback program was part of a “purity test.” He said Democrats should not limit their gun safety proposals based on polls or suggestions by political consultants — a not so thinly-veiled jab at Buttigieg.
“I don’t need lessons from you on courage — political or personal,” Buttigieg, who was deployed to Afghanistan during his time in the Navy Reserve, told O’Rourke during a heated part of the exchange.
He advised O’Rourke to focus his criticism on gun lobby groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), and not fellow Democrats.
The exchange began when CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked O’Rourke what would happen if, under his plan to ban so-called “assault weapons” and demands that Americans turn their guns in to the government in exchange for some cash. O’Rourke hasn’t had a good answer to that question in recent weeks, and he didn’t have one last night either.
“I expect my fellow Americans to follow the law,” the Texas Democrat responded. “The same way that we enforce any provision, any law that we have right now. We don’t go door-to-door to do anything in this country to enforce the law.”
Unsatisfied with the answer, Cooper continued to press O’Rourke, asking him how he would ensure that all owners of guns subject to his mandatory buyback initiative agreed to turn in their weapons. The CNN anchor floated the scenario of a gun owner refusing to participate in the proposal.
“If someone does not turn in an AR-15, an AK-47 — one of these weapons of war — or brings it out in public and brandishes in an attempt to intimidate, as we saw when we were at Kent state recently, then that weapon will be taken from them,” O’Rourke said. “If they persist, there will be other consequences from law enforcement. But the expectation is that Americans will follow the law.”
There is really no good reason to think that millions of Americans are going to comply with O’Rourke’s proposal. Never before in American history have citizens been told to turn their property over to the government because Uncle Sam’s declared their property to be illegal. Even during Prohibition Americans who legally possessed their alcohol when the 18th Amendment went into effect were able to keep their booze. What Beto is demanding is unprecedented in American history, and I think there’s enough disobedience in our national DNA that O’Rourke would be disappointed with the results if he were every to put his confiscation plan in to effect.
Just look at the lack of compliance with New York’s SAFE Act provisions requiring gun owners to register their semi-automatic long guns with the state, or the lack of magazines turned in under New Jersey’s magazine ban. Heck, look at the number of Americans that are using cannabis despite a federal prohibition. In fact, Beto O’Rourke wants to legalize cannabis and expunge the records of anyone arrested for low-level cannabis possession charges precisely because there are so many people who refuse to follow that law. Yet Beto thinks (or hopes) that it’ll be different with guns somehow. It won’t, but O’Rourke simply can’t acknowledge that fact because he doesn’t really have a plan if millions of Americans say “Hell no, you’re not” in response to his “Hell yes, we’re taking your AR-15” demand.
So far O’Rourke hasn’t qualified for next month’s debate, and will need a big boost in the polls to get there. I don’t think he did himself any favors last night. While he came off as passionate, he also came off as unrealistic and unprepared to address fundamental questions about how his proposal would work in the real world, not just his imagination.