Last week’s Democratic Debates in Houston, Texas saw several of the candidates strive to show how they were different from one another on anything from healthcare to gun control. One former congressman from Texas, Beto O’Rourke had the strongest and most quotable statement of the night.
When asked by one of the moderators for details on his mandatory gun buyback program, Beto O’Rourke replied, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take AR-15, your AK-47…And we’re not going to allow them to be used against Americans anymore,” to thunderous applause from the debate audience. Beto taking a hard line on gun control is the spark his campaign needed, with the latest Real Clear Politics poll showing him at 3% nationally.
While Texas Congressman O’Rourke’s championing of mandatory government buybacks of semi-automatic rifles is both refreshing and bold to hear about, many Republicans and Democrats point out that O’Rourke’s stance plays into the National Rifle Association’s narrative of Democrats wanting to tear up the second amendment and seize law-abiding American’s guns.
Before I elaborate as to why Congressman O’Rourke’s comments could lead to more harm than good, I must say to Bates students that I understand why Beto’s remarks seem so liberating to hear. The shootings that occurred in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas ended the lives of 29 innocent people. Many Ohioans and Texans are furious at the loss of life and Beto makes their frustration and anger about those mass shootings evident in his campaign.
I myself understand how they feel because I witnessed the aftermath of the Emmanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. I am a firm believer of background checks, red flag laws, and other forms of gun control because thoughts and prayers are never enough. However, Congressman O’Rourke has played right into the hands of the NRA, at a time when the gun lobby is more vulnerable than it has ever been. Starting in August, the NRA has been handicapped by several lawsuits from former business partners due to an internal power struggle that saw former NRA President Oliver North attempt to depose current President Wayne LaPierre from his position, due to allegations of misusing donations for his own personal travel expenses.
These allegations, according to the New York Times, has led many board members of the NRA to openly call for LaPierre’s ousting as the NRA and its main advertising firm sued and countersued one another over access to documents detailing these illicit purchases by LaPierre. Major donors to the NRA have since launched a public campaign against LaPierre to force him to reform the organization or resign, forcing grassroots gun activists to pick sides.
With the NRA embroiled in multi-million-dollar lawsuits and an internal civil war, Congressman O’Rourke’s comment gives the NRA a perfect example of the narrative that they have been pushing for years: that Democrats want to empower the government to be able to take away your guns. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) said that O’Rourke’s comments would be “played for years at Second Amendment rallies.”
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that O’Rourke’s message would play into the hands of gun reform opponents. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) said the comments were not particularly helpful at the moment, as many members in congress are focusing on universal background checks, red flag laws, and other forms of gun control, not a confiscation program.
President Trump addressed the comments the next day, stating that “if this is a movement to take your guns away, it’s never going to happen.” The hysteria and fear that the Trump campaign will create in their base using O’ Rourke’s comments in 2020 will be another hurdle the Democratic candidate will have to clear in order to defeat Trump.
Congressman O’Rourke’s gift to the gun lobby is a new message that the gun lobby can once again rally people to its cause. Whomever the Democratic nominee is, they will have to answer for Congressman O’Rourke’s hardline stance.