Liberal Democrats, frustrated by inaction in Congress on gun control, appear ready to embrace a radical proposal that wouldn’t stop one single mass shooting, but would make them feel good about not solving the problem.
“Mandatory gun buybacks” is an imported idea that Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke supported after the mass shooting in El Paso. The idea comes from Australia where the government instituted a mandatory buyback program following a mass shooting in 1996.
Liberals swoon at the results: suicides and homicides plummeted. But in addition to the mandatory buyback program, there was radical gun control legislation, making it much more difficult to own any kind of firearm.
Nevertheless, gun confiscation is no longer a scare tactic used by Republicans to get elected. It’s here. And it’s real.
“Clearly what we’ve seen is that approach has failed, and the reason this has failed — and it’s reflected in our politics on every issue — is there’s no interest on the other side to ever do anything,” said [Igor] Volsky [founder of Guns Down America Action Fund].
In addition to the mandatory buybacks O’Rourke is championing, other 2020 Democratic candidates have sought proposals to make themselves stand out. This week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for a threefold and fourfold tax increase on guns and ammunition, respectively. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, meanwhile, has made requiring a federal license to buy firearms a centerpiece of his campaign, and others, like O’Rourke, Warren, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have adopted similar plans.
“You have 20 Democratic presidential candidates each trying to look more anti-gun rights than the other for their base, so they have to have different proposals,” Alan Gottlieb, founder of the pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation, said. “It’s more heated. It’s more in-your-face.”
With the center of gravity in the Democratic Party skewing left, the more radical the gun control proposal, the more support a candidate gets.
Experts have raised concerns about how to implement proposals like mandatory buybacks that require gun owners sell their assault-style weapons, which could make up as many as 15 million of the more than 300 million privately owned firearms in the U.S., according to a National Rifle Association estimate.
Swalwell says his plan would make it easier to comply by allowing owners to keep their guns if they store them at a shooting range or hunting club.
It’s always a challenge to make radical proposals sound reasonable. Both O’Rourke and Swalwell aren’t concerned about reasonableness as much as they care about gutting the Second Amendment. In order to make gun ownership illegal, you must first win the point that the subject is open for debate. Gun groups have successfully blocked that notion for years, but it’s becoming harder to do so.
While the gun issue will surely fade into the background before the 2020 election — as long as there are no more mass shootings — Democrats appear willing to push programs that will lose them far more votes than they might gain.
But for Democrats, the risk is worth it.