A day after he reset his presidential campaign and pledged to hold President Donald Trump accountable for the Aug. 3 El Paso shooting that left 22 people dead, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke called for a mandatory national gun buyback program and a gun licensing and registry program Friday — two measures that the candidate had previously been hesitant to back.
His mandatory buyback proposal would apply only to assault weapons — the program would be voluntary for handguns — and would go farther than the gun proposals of most other Democratic candidates. Those who did not participate in the mandatory buyback program would be fined, according to O’Rourke’s plan.
O’Rourke’s appetite for such a mandatory gun buyback program had previously been unclear. In March, he had said that “if you own an AR-15, keep it,” but added that he didn’t think any more “weapons of war” should be sold. Earlier this month, days after the El Paso mass shooting, he indicated on the “Pod Save America” podcast that he was open to the program.
“I know that this is not politically easy,” O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso, told CNN Thursday when asked about the policy. “It’s frankly why far too few people have proposed it; it’s frankly why I have not proposed it in the past. … Regardless of what it does to our prospects going forward, you’ve got to speak the truth and be clear about where the solutions are.”
Another major component of O’Rourke’s plan, which also addresses ways to combat hate and tamp down on white nationalism, is a nationwide gun licensing system and registry that would grant gun licenses only to those 21 or older — with exceptions for hunting licenses — who completed a certified gun safety training program. Those licenses would have to be renewed every five years.
All gun purchases would require a background check, and gun owners would have to add their weapons to a national registry. New handguns would be micro-stamped, a process that allows law enforcement to match cartridges and bullets to firearms and the last registered owners.
Previously, O’Rourke pumped the brakes on gun licensing when he said in May that New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s proposal to require licenses for all gun owners “may be too far.”
But O’Rourke presented himself as a changed candidate Thursday during his speech in El Paso when he pressed forward with a campaign to confront a president he considers an existential threat to the nation and its values.
“I’m confident that if, at this moment, we do not wake up to this threat, then we, as a country, will die in our sleep,” O’Rourke said Thursday from a picturesque spot overlooking El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. “The response to this has to be that each of us make a commitment to see clearly, to speak honestly and to act decisively in this moment of truth.”
Like other Democratic presidential candidates, O’Rourke also called for working with Congress to ban the manufacturing, sale and possession of assault weapons, trigger cranks, silencers, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines and establish a federal red flag law, which would allow police departments in states without such laws to petition federal courts to have weapons removed from people who pose a risk to themselves or others.
O’Rourke also did not shy away from lambasting Trump in his plan — in much the same way as he had done at candlelight vigils, rallies and other events in El Paso during his nearly two-week pause from the presidential campaign trail following the shooting.
“We must connect the dots between this president locking children in cages, calling Latinx community members an ‘infestation,’ and a white supremacist killer using the same language in an act of domestic terrorism taking 22 lives in El Paso,” O’Rourke said in his plan, referring to the man accused of carrying out the El Paso attack who police said had confessed to investigators that he was specifically targeting “Mexicans.”
O’Rourke also said he would create domestic terrorism offices within the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department; declare gun violence a public health emergency; and hold internet companies accountable for hosting hate speech.
That would include requiring social media platforms to revise their terms of service to ban “hateful activities” and act when content violated those terms, O’Rourke said.
(c)2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.