After leaving pieces of his mandatory gun buyback plan unclear during Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas said Wednesday that in his vision of the future, America’s police will make home visits to confiscate weapons that are not surrendered.
During a debate last month, O’Rourke said that if he was elected, he would enact a mandatory buyback of all AR-15 and AK-47 rifles.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said at the time.
O’Rourke is currently sixth in the crowded Democratic presidential field with an average of 2.8 percent support, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
On Wednesday, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough pressed O’Rourke to flesh out the details after he said during Tuesday night’s debate that he expected Americans would surrender their guns if a mandatory buyback were to become law.
“Let’s say I have an AR-15. I bought it legally five years ago,” Scarborough said. “I’m a law-abiding citizen. You want to buy it back as president of the United States. I say no. You give me other incentives. I say no. ‘I bought this legally. I’m keeping this. I live on a ranch. I need it for protection.’ What would you do then?”
“First of all,” O’Rourke said, “I’m wouldn’t concede the point on following the law. I don’t know you well, Joe, but I know you well enough to expect you to follow the law, even if it’s a law that you disagree with. I think it’s one of the things that distinguishes us as a country. We’re a country of laws.”
“OK, let’s just assume that there’s a rancher in Texas that doesn’t, that says, ‘I’m not going to do this because this is an unjust law and it’s unconstitutional.’ What’s the next step?” the MSNBC host said. “I think that’s what we need to concede because there will be people that don’t turn their guns back in.
“What’s the next step for the federal government there?”
“I think just as in any law that is not followed or flagrantly abused, there have to be consequences, or else there is no respect for the law,” O’Rourke said. “So, in that case, I think there would be a visit by law enforcement to recover that firearm and to make sure that it is purchased, bought back, so that it cannot potentially be used against somebody else.”
The issue of gun confiscation arose Tuesday night and was the subject of a fierce bit of back-and-forth between O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
CNN host Anderson Cooper asked O’Rourke how his plan would work.
“Look, we’re going to make sure that the priority is saving the lives of our fellow Americans. I think almost everyone on this stage agrees that it’s not right and as president would seek to ban the sale of AR-15s and AK-47s,” the congressman said before beginning a denunciation of guns.
Cooper tried to herd him toward an answer to the specific question.
“So I expect my fellow Americans to follow the law, the same way that we enforce any provision, any law that we have right now,” O’Rourke said, adding, “We don’t go door to door to do anything in this country to enforce the law. I expect Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non-gun-owners alike to respect and follow the law.”
Cooper then asked O’Rourke how people would be forced to give up guns if they did not wish to do so.
“If someone does not turn in an AR-15 or an AK-47, one of these weapons of war, or brings it out in public and brandishes it in an attempt to intimidate, as we saw when we were at Kent State recently, then that weapon will be taken from them,” he said. “If they persist, they will be other consequences from law enforcement.
“But the expectation is that Americans will follow the law. I believe in this country. I believe in my fellow Americans. I believe that they will do the right thing.”
Cooper then turned to Buttigieg, who lashed out at O’Rourke.
“Look, Congressman, you just made it clear that you don’t know how this is actually going to take weapons off the streets,” he said. “If you can develop the plan further, I think we can have a debate about it. But we can’t wait.
“People are dying in the streets right now. We can’t wait for universal background checks that we finally have a shot to actually get through. We can’t wait to ban the sale of new weapons and high-capacity magazines so we don’t wind up with millions more of these things on the street. We can’t wait for red flag laws that are going to disarm domestic abusers and prevent suicides, which are not being talked about nearly enough as a huge part of the gun violence epidemic in this country.
“We cannot wait for purity tests. We have to just get something done.”
O’Rourke was then offered the chance to reply.
“This is not a purity test,” he said. “This is a country that loses 40,000 of our fellow Americans every year to gun violence. This is a crisis. We’ve got to do something about it.
“And those challenges that you described are not mutually exclusive to the challenges that I’m describing. I want to make sure we have universal background checks and red flag laws and that we end the sale of these weapons of war, but to use the analogy of health care, it would be as though we said, ‘Look, we’re for primary care, but let’s not talk about mental health care because that’s a bridge too far.’ People need that primary care now, so let’s save that for another day.
“No, let’s decide what we are going to believe in, what we’re going to achieve. And then let’s bring this country together in order to do that. Listening to my fellow Americans, to those moms who demand action, to those students who march for our lives, who, in fact, came up with this extraordinary bold peace plan that calls for mandatory buybacks, let’s follow their inspiration and lead and not be limited by the polls and the consultants and the focus groups. Let’s do what’s right.”
Buttigieg did not back down.
“The problem isn’t the polls. The problem is the policy,” he said. “And I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal. Everyone on this stage is determined to get something done. Everyone on this stage recognizes, or at least I thought we did, that the problem is not other Democrats who don’t agree with your particular idea of how to handle this.”
In response, O’Rourke denied taking on Democrats who disagree with him, and praised “the courage of students willing to stand up to the NRA and conventional politics and poll-tested politicians, that was a slap in the fact to every single one of those groups and every single survivor of a mass casualty assault with an AR-15 and an AK-47.”
“We must buy them back,” he added.
Buttigieg then offered a final salvo.
“What we owe to those survivors is to actually deliver a solution,” he said. “We are at the cusp of building a new American majority to actually do things that congressmen and senators have been talking about with almost no impact for my entire adult life.”
Cooper tried to end the back-and-forth, but Buttigieg would not stop.
“No, this is really important, OK?” he said. “On guns, we are this close to an ‘assault weapons’ ban. That would be huge. And we’re going to get wrapped around the axle in a debate over whether it’s, ‘Hell, yes, we’re going to take your guns’?”
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