Cynthia M. Allen

With tension over policing, Beto’s gun ‘buyback’ would be a disaster in Fort Worth

If Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate decided anything, it was that Texas dodged a bullet — literally — when it failed to elect Beto O’Rourke to the U.S. Senate last year.

Ever since August’s devastating mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, the former congressman has made promoting comprehensive gun control his raison d’etre.

That isn’t surprising or even problematic, really. Progressive Democrats have long capitalized on national tragedies in their effort to promote gun restrictions, even as there is no clear evidence that mass shootings are on the rise.

And, in fairness, the horrific nature of the El Paso shooting probably warranted a strong response from its former representative in Congress. Even some prominent conservatives have made the case for gun reforms in its wake, advocating policy proposals such as red-flag laws. Other Republicans have indicated an openness to strengthening background checks.

But O’Rourke has gone much further in his gun control advocacy, declaring on the debate stage in Houston last month, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”

By and large, he made those comments with impunity. Yes, he earned criticism from Second Amendment proponents (and frankly, anyone who appreciates the Constitution), but O’Rourke garnered mostly positive attention from the media and gun control advocates.

His fellow candidates have mostly resisted the opportunity to join his campaign for confiscation, but they haven’t rushed to judgment, either. At least not until Tuesday, when in yet another theatrical response, O’Rourke revealed the second element of his “buy-back” proposal: how he would accomplish it.

“If someone does not turn in an AR-15 or AK-47, one of these weapons of war, or brings it out in public to brandish and intimidate ... then that weapon will be taken from them,” he said.

He clarified on MSNBC’s Morning Joe the following day exactly how this would be enforced if a gun owner didn’t step forward to surrender a weapon.

“In that case, there would be a visit by law enforcement to recover that firearm and to make sure that it is purchased, bought back, so that it cannot be potentially used against somebody else,” he said.

Hmmm. A visit from law enforcement?

O’Rourke has claimed to have his finger on the pulse of America after the El Paso shooting. “I believe [Americans] will do the right thing,” he said Tuesday, referring to their perceived willingness to hand over their guns to the government if required by law.

One can only assume he hasn’t been reading the news in his home state. If he had, he would know that right now, there is perhaps no worse idea than sending law enforcement officers door to door to relieve people of their legally obtained firearms.

Indeed, few communities are feeling a greater level of distrust, warranted or not, between law enforcement and people of color than Fort Worth. The tragic shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson at the hands of a police officer has left our city on the edge.

It’s hard to imagine how O’Rourke would justify this plan to the people who are declaring that law enforcement makes them feel unsafe. It’s nothing short of a miracle that violence has not erupted on our streets. Ironic as it seems, it almost certainly would have if O’Rourke’s plan was policy.

Frankly, it’s equally troubling that so many Fort Worth residents claiming to understand the plight people of color had “Beto” signs in their yards just last year. But I digress.

To his credit, Texas’ other Democratic presidential candidate, Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro gets it. He told O’Rourke on Tuesday that mandatory confiscation could bring more intrusive policing and communities of color would likely bear the brunt. “I am not going to give these police officers another reason to go door to door,” Castro said.

Castro isn’t right about much, but he is about O’Rourke’s proposal.

Fortunately, O’Rourke and his gun confiscation policy appear to be going nowhere. With his campaign coffers dwindling, it’s unlikely his effort will survive another month. It’s also unlikely, even after his departure, that O’Rourke’s gun reform proposal will gain any support from the Democratic nominee.

Stranger things have happened. But it would be the last thing our community needs.

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Cynthia Allen joined the Star-Telegram Editorial Board in 2014 after a decade of working in government and public affairs in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Editorial Board and writes a weekly opinion column on a wide array of topics, including politics, faith and motherhood.
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