Kamala: Forcing gun owners into buyback programs? Count me in!

If it’s costly, impractical, and unconstitutional, Kamala Harris is fully behind it. To be fair, this describes almost all of her competitors in the Democratic presidential primaries. On forced confiscation of firearms, Harris is trying to carve out her own niche, apparently:

Kamala Harris said Friday she supports a mandatory buyback of military-style assault weapons, taking a more aggressive position than her main rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she told reporters after a campaign event in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

“We have to work out the details — there are a lot of details — but I do” support a forced buyback, Harris said when asked about the policy. “We have to take those guns off the streets.”

It’s not quite an exclusive niche, of course. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke called for a forced confiscation/reimbursement program for “assault weapons” too, as did Eric Swalwell very early on in the contest. Neither man made much headway in the primaries, and Swalwell was forced to drop out weeks ago. The idea of forcing legal firearms owners to surrender their legal weapons persists, however.

We’ve covered all this before, but let’s do a recap of all the ways in which this would be impractical and ultimately useless. The number of weapons owned by Americans in the so-called “assault weapons” class number is in the millions. It would take years just to set up the program, let alone administrate it. Even if such a law passed constitutional muster — and it wouldn’t — how would the government ensure enforcement? At some point, police would have to conduct house-to-house searches to find them without probable cause, which would violate not just the Second Amendment but also the Fourth Amendment.

How would this impact the rate of firearms-related homicides in the US, even if it could be accomplished? It would barely impact it — and that assumes that malevolent actors wouldn’t just switch to handguns or other long-barrel weapons. In 2017, the last full year for which we have FBI crime statistics, the US had a total of 15,129 homicides, of which 10,982 were committed by firearms. Of all firearms-related homicides, 64% were committed by handguns. Less than four percent were committed by rifles, of which “assault weapons” are a subset. Twenty-nine percent were committed by unknown types of firearms, but most of those are likelier to be handguns as well, since rifle-based homicides are usually pretty distinctive.

It’s been said over and over again, but it’s still true: far more homicides are committed by cutting instruments (10.5% of all homicides) than long-barrel firearms (4.4% of overall homicides when combining rifles and shotguns). More people are killed by hands and feet (4.6%) than rifles (2.66%) or shotguns (1.74%). These patterns hold up year after year after year, and demonstrate that “assault weapons” bans and mandatory confiscations are about posturing rather than reality.

Harris is embracing this nonsense notion in order to distinguish herself from the current trio at the top of the polls. As I write in my column at The Week, Harris is flailing because she chooses to chase inauthenticity, when in fact she could have been the natural choice for Democrats if she had just decided who she wants to be and stick with it:

Politico wrote Harris’ 2020 obituary along with most of the rest of the field earlier this week. “Only three candidates are polling above single digits,” reported David Siders and Elena Schneider, “Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders.” Harris, according to Politico, has been relegated to the “everyone else” category.

That represents a stunning turnaround from a little over two months ago, when Harris saw her numbers shoot skyward after taking on Biden in the first Democratic presidential debate. She scolded Biden for his opposition to federally mandated busing in the early 1970s, punctuated by her perceived authenticity as a beneficiary of the policy. Unfortunately, that “sugar high” of response to that authentic voice, as Bloomberg‘s Sahil Kapur puts it, sowed the seeds of Harris’ eventual authenticity collapse, which led to the collapse in her popular support.

In the days after that debate, Harris began shifting her own position on busing until she ended up where Biden was and is: in favor of using it as an option for school districts but not in favor of federal busing orders for desegregation. At the same time, Harris also continued equivocating on her support for Medicare-for-All — not the only Democratic candidate to do so — and the role of private insurers in the health-care system. Despite sponsoring Sanders’ Medicare-for-All bill in the Senate, Harris declared in mid-August that she had “not been comfortable with Bernie’s plan.” Harris’ strange decision to skip a softball CNN forum on climate change after hyping the threat also suggests that Harris is unprepared to discuss the topic even under the friendliest conditions. Put all that together and Harris looks less like an authentic leader and more like every other politician in Washington.

This is just another way in which the superficiality of Harris is causing her campaign to self-destruct. It’s not too late for her to recover her credibility, but this flight to Fantasy Island isn’t going to help.

What causes politicians to pander so shamelessly? In part, John Lott argues, it’s Hollywood’s fault. Their ignorance and bias has become so bad that it feeds the hysteria that drives politicians like Harris to exploit it. That’s certainly one explanation, but the hysteria-drive news media is a big part of the problem too. When it comes to mass shootings, they may be the most significant part of the contagion issue, but expect them to give that as much coverage as Joe Biden’s bloody eyeball.