Com­ing for your AR-15? ‘Hell, yes’

Law­mak­ers fear O’Rourke’s de­bate-night throw­down could back­fire on Democrats

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Daly and Ni­cholas Ric­cardi

WASH­ING­TON — Beto O’Rourke’s “hell, yes” mo­ment at the Democrats’ pres­i­den­tial de­bate is scram­bling his party’s mes­sage on guns.

The Democrats have long con­tended their sup­port of gun con­trol laws does not mean they want to take away law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens’ firearms. But on Fri­day, they strug­gled to square that mes­sage with their pres­i­den­tial con­tender’s full-throated call on na­tional TV for con­fis­cat­ing as­sault ri­fles.

“Hell, yes, we’re go­ing to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not go­ing to al­low it to be used against your fel­low Amer­i­cans any­more,” the for­mer Texas con­gress­man de­clared dur­ing Thurs­day night’s de­bate.

O’Rourke’s home­town of El Paso was the site of a mass

shoot­ing last month that killed 22 peo­ple, and he’s put the is­sue of gun vi­o­lence at the cen­ter of his cam­paign ef­fort. On Fri­day, his cam­paign hawked T-shirts em­bla­zoned with his de­bate vow.

How­ever, some fel­low Democrats chas­tised him and fret­ted that his re­marks may have made things harder for gun con­trol sup­port­ers as they ne­go­ti­ate with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on leg­is­la­tion to re­spond to this sum­mer’s mass shoot­ings.

“I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Sec­ond Amend­ment ral­lies with or­ga­ni­za­tions that try to scare peo­ple by say­ing Democrats are com­ing for your guns,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told CNN Fri­day. “I don’t think a ma­jor­ity of the Se­nate or the coun­try is go­ing to em­brace manda­tory buy­backs. We need to fo­cus on what we can get done.”

His fears about new rages against gun con­trol sup­port­ers seem sure to be borne out.

“This is what their goal is. We’ve al­ways said it, now they’re say­ing it,” said Alan Got­tlieb of the Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion, based in Wash­ing­ton state. “Now they’ve said it and we’re go­ing to make them eat it.”

Mean­while, Coons is work­ing with Repub­li­can Sen. Pat Toomey of Penn­syl­va­nia on a mea­sure to re­quire that law en­force­ment of­fi­cials be no­ti­fied when some­one fails a gun­pur­chase back­ground check. Toomey, who is also work­ing with Demo­cratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia on the firearms is­sue, agreed that O’Rourke’s com­ments could back­fire.

“This rhetoric un­der­mines and hurts bi­par­ti­san ef­forts to ac­tu­ally make progress on com­mon-sense gun safety ef­forts, like ex­pand­ing back­ground checks,” he said.

O’Rourke was less provoca­tive in his lan­guage but still de­ter­mined on Fri­day.

“Much re­spect to Sen. Coons for lead­ing the fight on back­ground checks,” he tweeted. “But the time for let­ting sta­tus quo pol­i­tics de­ter­mine how far we can go is over. If we agree that hav­ing mil­lions of weapons of war on the streets is a bad idea, we have to do some­thing about it.”

One worry among Democrats is that call­ing for out­right con­fis­ca­tion plays into claims by Trump and other Repub­li­cans that Democrats are com­ing for peo­ple’s firearms.

On Thurs­day night, just as O’Rourke made his call to take back the ri­fles, Trump warned at a Repub­li­can re­treat in Bal­ti­more: “Democrats want to con­fis­cate guns from law-abid­ing Amer­i­cans, so they are to­tally de­fense­less when some­body walks into their house.”

Repub­li­cans, Trump promised, “will for­ever up­hold the fun­da­men­tal right to keep and bear arms.” That line got huge ap­plause at the GOP re­treat, and again Fri­day when it was re­peated there by Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

By all ac­counts, Trump needs to run up the score in ru­ral ar­eas to win re­elec­tion next year. The 2020 out­come is ex­pected to de­pend heav­ily on a trio of Rust Belt states — Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin — that have large num­bers of ru­ral vot­ers, many of whom are gun-own­ers or sym­pa­thetic to own­ers on this is­sue.

Sev­eral gun con­trol groups stressed on Fri­day that they were not ad­vo­cat­ing con­fis­ca­tion, but they also didn’t fol­low Coons’ lead in con­demn­ing O’Rourke’s dec­la­ra­tion.

“I think it is very un­der­stand­able that he is tak­ing a pol­icy po­si­tion that the larger gun safety com­mu­nity hasn’t taken and he’s try­ing to push the en­ve­lope,” said Robin Lloyd, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Gif­fords, the gun con­trol group named af­ter Gabby Gif­fords, the Ari­zona con­gress­woman who sur­vived a gun­shot wound to the head in 2011. “If the Amer­i­can voter does not think this is an ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tion, they’ll let us know.”

Gun rights groups have seemed to be some­what on their heels re­cently as the un­abated se­ries of mass shoot­ings has in­creased pres­sure for new con­trol mea­sures. Even the staunchly con­ser­va­tive lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Texas, Dan Pa­trick, said he sup­ports back­ground checks for all gun pur­chases af­ter the El Paso at­tack and a sec­ond mass shoot­ing in the state. In­fight­ing and in­ves­ti­ga­tions at the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and elec­tion wins by pro-gun-con­trol Democrats last Novem­ber have con­vinced some politi­cians that the winds have shifted on the gun is­sue.

In­deed, O’Rourke isn’t alone. None of the other nine can­di­dates on the de­bate stage con­tra­dicted him on his pro­posal to re­quire own­ers of the two pop­u­lar styles of as­sault ri­fles to sell them to the gov­ern­ment. Two can­di­dates — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris — have also called for manda­tory buy­backs of as­sault weapons. Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, asked if she agreed with O’Rourke Thurs­day night, al­lowed only that she pre­ferred a vol­un­tary buy­back to a manda­tory one.

All 10 of the Democrats on stage have called for an as­sault weapon sales ban, the lat­est sign of how the party has be­come em­bold­ened on gun con­trol.


Beto O’Rourke put forth a new mes­sage on gun con­trol dur­ing Thurs­day’s de­bate.

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