It’s the Status Quo on Guns That’s Unreasonable

Beto O’Rourke provided the most riveting moment of the Democratic presidential debate in Houston.

Since then, we have witnessed a chorus of people who are actually suggesting that O’Rourke is hurting the cause of gun reform. For example, there was this from the folks at Axios:

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that one. It suggests that a weapon of war that was designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time is simply a “modern sporting rifle.” That strikes me as exactly the kind of double-speak George Orwell wrote about.

But the deeper point of the Axios article is that O’Rourke’s proposal of a mandatory buy-back program for AR-15s and AK-47s isn’t “popular” and “could upset a decades-old balancing act on guns.” Excuse me, but the only “balancing act on guns” that I am aware of is the stranglehold the 2nd Amendment folks have had on Republican legislators that has effectively stopped any common sense gun reform initiatives in their tracks.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, of Delaware, suggested that O’Rourke’s comments will be played at 2nd Amendment rallies in an attempt to scare people that Democrats are coming for their guns—as if conservatives didn’t already do that. Apparently, Pete Buttigieg is singing from the same hymnal.

All of that is what sent me on a bit of a Twitter rant.

The reason so many people are paying attention to what O’Rourke is saying about guns is that he’s tapping into the anger a lot of us feel about both the carnage of gun violence and the way Republicans have stood in the way of doing anything about it. That is the side of the story that must be told.

The Parkland students who are involved with March for Our Lives have put out “A Peace Plan for a Safer America.” Perhaps because we are all so consumed with the 2020 election, it hasn’t gotten as much attention as O’Rourke’s proposals. Jacqueline Alemany and Matt Viser of the Washington Post summarized what is included in the student’s plan.

The Peace Plan would create a national licensing and gun registry, long a nonstarter with gun rights advocates; ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; implement a mandatorygun buyback program; and install a “national director of gun violence prevention” who would report directly to the president and coordinate the federal response to what advocates call a national public health emergency.

It would dramatically increase restrictions around owning guns in ways sure to spark fierce blowback, including raising the age to 21 from 18 for those who want to buy guns. It calls for a “multi-step” gun licensing system, overseen by a federal agency, that would include in-person interviews and a 10-day wait before gun purchases are approved. The license would be renewed annually.

In the vein of the Green New Deal, the Peace Plan takes a holistic approach to gun violence by also calling for automatic voter registration when those eligible turn 18, along with the creation of a “Safety Corps,” which the authorscompare to a Peace Corps for gun violence prevention. The plan also proposes community-based solutions like mental health services, as well as programs to address and prevent suicide, domestic violence and urban violence.

If anyone suggests that their vision is too bold, the students talk about creating a movement for change and point to the fact that there was initially no political appetite to end Jim Crow. But the Civil Rights Movement identified the need and acted until it had built an appetite for change.

What O’Rourke shares with these young people—and voters all over this country—is a passion for doing something bold. We’ve lived with failure on this issue for so long that their demands can seem unreasonable. But let’s be very clear about one thing: it is the status quo of 40,000 gun deaths per year that is unreasonable.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.