Gun owners and Second Amendment activists often complain, and for very good reason, that media outlets cover the debate over firearms from a position of complete ignorance. Unfortunately for Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, he happened to run into one NPR show that featured someone who does know what he’s talking about. Ruben Sandoval, a community-college civics teacher, gives the Democratic presidential hopeful a brief but effective rundown on all of the judicial precedent that makes O’Rourke’s mandatory buyback proposal utter fantasy, and then asks him to explain how he expects to succeed (Via Beth Baumann):
Note well that Sandoval is not some GOP plant, but a Hillary Clinton voter from 2016. Was O’Rourke prepared for this?
“As you know, one of the courses that I teach, I teach Texas government and also state and local government bath at Coronado and EPCC [El Paso Community College]. So we kind of discuss these issues as far as the Second Amendment and the limits on the Second Amendment. And I remember what you said on the stage as far as the buyback program, the mandatory buyback. The question I have is: How would you get around the Supreme Court rulings?” Sandoval asked.
“I mean, you’ve got the D.C. v. Heller, which began to federalize or actually applied it to D.C., the Second Amendment, and then you have the McDonald v. Chicago, which basically said the Second Amendment is incorporated to all States,” Sandoval explained. “And so it would seem as though the courts would probably rule against something banning the AK-47, the AR-15s. And a mandatory buyback program would seem to be deemed unconstitutional, and as late as 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also included assault rifles to be part of the arms that are protected by the Second Amendment. So how would you be able to get around that?”
Give credit to O’Rourke for having the presence of mind to use an old tactic of experienced pols. Instead of answering Sandoval’s question, O’Rourke just changed it to the one he wanted to answer:
“Is the question ‘should we not pursue public policy or legislation for fear of the current composition of the courts?'”
No, actually, it wasn’t. The question from Sandoval was how can Beto keep promising to implement a policy that has zero chance of surviving a court challenge. The subtext to that question is why O’Rourke isn’t discussing what can be done about violent crime involving firearms. Nevertheless, he persisted:
“My answer to that is ‘no.’ Do the right thing while you have time to do the right thing,” O’Rourke replied. “And I think every American understands the distinction between a hunting rifle or a shotgun or a handgun that you have in your home for self-defense and something that was designed and is devastatingly effective at doing it to kill people on a battlefield, that is what an AR-15 and AK-47 is.”
“As we now know, the majority of America supports this proposal. A plurality of Texans, in what is thought to be a very red and certainly a very proud gun-owning state, support this proposal as well, so I know that this is the right thing to do. I know America supports this.”
Even if the latter were true, which is arguable at best, it’s irrelevant. In practical terms, such a bill would never make it through Congress, even if we ended up with a President Beto. In the second place, we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as a bulwark against majority rule. That’s the mission of both — to guarantee rights despite what mobs might demand at any one time. The Constitution can be changed, but it takes a broad and overwhelming public consensus for amendments to have any prayer of success, and despite what O’Rourke thinks, that doesn’t exist at all for amending the Bill of Rights.
Plus, there’s this old nonsense from Beto’s stump speeches:
“You have a very good question about what is its fate when it is challenged in the courts of law. We don’t know, but fear of that uncertainty shouldn’t prevent us from doing the right thing for all those Americans whose lives we want to save in a country that loses 40,000 people a year to gun violence. No other country comes close.”
Talk about fear and uncertainty. Not only did Beto not listen to the question, he hasn’t been listening to the answers either. Most of the 40,000-deaths figure come from suicides and accidents. In 2017, FBI statistics showed just under 11,000 of those were homicides (which would include justifiable self-defense homicides, by the way), and of those, only 403 were committed by rifles of any kind, the category that covers “assault weapons.” O’Rourke wants to upend the Constitution to deal with a part of one percent of the problem as he himself defines it.
All of which means that O’Rourke still hasn’t answered Sandoval’s question. Nor is he likely to ever do so, but give NPR a lot of credit for finding someone to actually ask the question in the first place. Maybe other media outlets will take notice.