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Beto O’Rourke Tries To Explain Why He Isn’t Calling For The Government To Confiscate Handguns

By  Molly Prince
Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) explained on Wednesday that while handguns are responsible for the overwhelming majority of firearms deaths, he still only wants to take away so-called “assault weapons” from American citizens.

“First of all, there’s a significant difference between a handgun and an AR-15,” O’Rourke told MSNBC’s Willie Geist when confronted with the data. “If you talk to or listen to trauma surgeons, as I have, and they describe the wounds from those weapons of war, they expel all their kinetic energy inside of you. They just destroy your organs, cause you to bleed to death, very different from what a handgun will do. And there’s a legitimate use for a handgun, to protect yourself in your home.”

The former Texas congressman has long advocated for strict gun control measures, such as requiring universal background checks, opposing concealed carry reciprocity, and banning “assault weapons.” However, his anti-gun stance has become even more radical since he began seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

After facing mounting pressure to drop out of the presidential race, O’Rourke instead re-launched his campaign in August with a primary focus on his anti-gun platform. Days later, he called for the federal government to seize millions of firearms from law-abiding American citizens, but he has yet to clarify precisely which firearms should be confiscated.

Geist questioned O’Rourke on why he is not calling for law enforcement to go door-to-door in high crime areas like Chicago, in order to help prevent gun-related violence.

“The answer to that challenge is making sure that we have true universal background checks, close all of the loopholes, and in the Chicago example, and I’ve talked to people in Chicago about this, you cannot have selective enforcement of those background checks because while you may have them in Chicago, if you don’t have them in Indiana or in bordering states, people are going to buy guns in those places and bring them into Chicago,” O’Rourke replied. “We need a national system of universal background checks and it must be complemented with red-flag laws so that if someone is displaying a tendency towards harming themselves, in a country that loses 22,000 people to gun suicides, or harming somebody else, then we take that weapon from them through due process before it is too late.”

After Geist pressed O’Rourke further on why, if 70% of gun violence is coming from handguns, not just “go all the way” and confiscate those as well.

“Because I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” O’Rourke answered. “I don’t think that’s constitutional.”

He subsequently cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s landmark 2008 opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia. While O’Rourke stated that Scalia noted some limits to the Second Amendment, the Democratic contender refrained from acknowledging what they are.

“When the Second Amendment was ratified and adopted, it took you three minutes to reload your musket. I don’t know that the Founding Fathers could have envisioned the kind of carnage that could be produced with one of these weapons,” O’Rourke said. “No civilian should own them. And I hope you all acknowledge this, every candidate on that stage is for an assault weapons ban.”

“So, if the logic is that those weapons are too dangerous to sell and then you knowledge that there are 16 million of them out there, you have to do something about the number of weapons that are out there,” he continued. “And my plan is the clearest, it is the boldest, and to your point, it is politically difficult, it may not poll well, it may not be politically convenient, but it’s important if we’re going to save the lives of our fellow Americans.”

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