Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) recently endorsed a mandatory-buyback program for assault weapons: not only would consumers no longer be allowed to buy AR-15s and AK-47s, but Americans who currently own them would be legally required to sell them to the government in exchange for compensation.
It's a fairly new and controversial proposal for a national candidate, though an independent poll last week found 46% support for the idea.
When the issue came up during last night's debate, the Texan said, "[I]n Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren't enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."
One viewer registered a specific kind of objection via Twitter.
A Texas state representative had a menacing response to Beto O'Rourke's statement in Thursday's debate that "hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15.""My AR is ready for you Robert Francis," Republican Representative Briscoe Cain tweeted about O'Rourke, using the presidential candidate's legal first and middle name.
Cain later deleted the tweet. Nevertheless, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest those who threaten to shoot presidential candidates probably shouldn't own military-style assault weapons.
O'Rourke told CNN this morning that his campaign contacted the FBI about the Texas Republican's missive. "I mean, anytime you have somebody threatening to use violence against somebody in this country to resolve a political issue -- or really for any reason -- that's a matter for law enforcement," the Texas Democrat said.
Time will tell whether Briscoe Cain faces any legal troubles for his not-so-subtle threat, but it's worth contextualizing this incident because it's part of a larger story.
Since the idea of a buyback program became part of the 2020 conversation, fueled by support from O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, and other presidential aspirants, some on the right haven't just pushed back against the idea or argued against it on the merits. They've also begun publicly raising the prospect of violence. The New Republic had a good piece on this last week:
The View co-host Meghan McCain responded [to O'Rourke's position] with a dire warning. "The AR-15 is by far the most popular gun in America, by far," she told her fellow panelists. "I was just in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, if you're talking about taking people's guns from them, there's going to be a lot of violence."Tucker Carlson echoed McCain's blood-soaked sentiment on his Tuesday night broadcast. "So, this is -- what you are calling for is civil war," he said. "What you are calling for is an incitement to violence. It's something I wouldn't want to live here when that happened, would you? I'm serious." Erick Erickson, a prominent conservative columnist, also warned of tragedy. "I know people who keep AR-15's buried because they're afraid one day the government might come for them," he wrote on Twitter. "I know others who are stockpiling them. It is not a stretch to say there'd be violence if the [government] tried to confiscate them.""There would be violence" neatly elides what's actually being claimed: Some gun-rights activists would murder government officials who try to enforce a duly passed law. This isn't an extreme viewpoint among such gun enthusiasts. If anything, it's one of their central tenets.
I fear this will get worse before it gets better.