Photo credit: JD Lasica (CC-By-2.0)

Former Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas released his plan to “combat hate and violence in America” on his presidential campaign website.

Tried and Tired Gun Control Ideas

Most of what O’Rourke suggests for gun control is not particularly original.

Like every other Democratic candidate he wants broad gun control measures that restrict the liberty of law-abiding gun owners.

  • Proposes a gun registry and licensing system.
  • Universal background checks at the point of purchase.
  • A ban on assault weapons, trigger cranks, silencers, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines.
  • Implement a buyback program for banned assault weapons and handguns (not exactly sure what handguns would be banned under his plan).
  • Declare gun violence a public health emergency.

All of this has been proposed before, none of these proposals would solve the epidemic of mass shootings, and the assault weapons ban (that we’ve done before had no measurable impact on gun violence). Also bump stocks are already banned, what is he going to do ban it more?

O’Rourke floats two more ideas related to gun control that are unique and awful.

He wants to limit people’s ability to stockpile weapons so he will limit gun purchases to one a month.

As president, Beto will limit individuals to one gun purchase per month and direct ATF to deem any individual or business that sells over five guns in a single year a gun “dealer.” Dealers are subject to background check requirements. 

At least with the gun registry and assault weapons ban he said he’ll “work with Congress” that particular phrase is not included here.

Then he takes the idea of “red flag laws,” which could have merit if properly drafted at the state level and federalizes it. He would pursue legislation that would allow local police departments to bypass the state process in states that do not have such laws.

As president, Beto will establish a federal red flag law, allowing police departments in states without red flag laws to petition in federal courts to have weapons removed from those who present a danger to themselves or others. Beto will also work with Congress to close loopholes that allow dangerous individuals and domestic abusers from accessing guns, including the private sale loophole (online and gun shows), the boyfriend loophole, and the Charleston loophole. 

So his plan is to violate the 10th Amendment along with the 2nd Amendment. At least he did not mention a “gun show loophole” because such a thing does not exist. There is an exemption for private sales between two people within the same state. Where is the federal interest for sales between two residents of the same state?

There is none.

Background checks are already required for gun sales from an individual or federal firearms licensee (FFL) if made across state lines where there is a federal interest.

In terms of the “boyfriend loophole,” Federal law already allow for the restriction of gun ownership for those convicted of domestic abuse if they are married or were married to their victim, live with their victim, or have children with the victim. What O’Rourke suggests here is expanding that to include stalkers, current or former boyfriends and dating partners.

Some see this as overly broad, the potential for abuse great, and unlike current law, it would target those who may not have been violent (stalkers) or who no longer have contact with their victim. A lot will depend on how a potential bill is drafted whether it will get any traction or not.

The Charleston loophole is not a loophole. What O’Rourke wants to eliminate is the provision that an FFL has the option to proceed with a sale if the background check does not come back within three days. That protects gun rights. This provision prevents the federal government from intentionally dragging their feet on a background check to prevent a gun purchase. With today’s technology, there is absolutely no reason a background check can not come back within three days, none.

I’m not convinced, especially under the current make-up of the Supreme Court, that any of these ideas would withstand litigation.

Restricting Speech to Combat White Supremacy

Even more troubling are his ideas to combat white supremacy.

Here are two of his ideas that I’m ok with before I get to the troubling aspects of his plan.

  • Ensure that the FBI and DOJ prioritize right wing violence.
  • Identify white nationalism as a threat in counterterrorism strategy and create dedicated domestic terrorism offices within DHS, DOJ and the FBI.

I’m good with prioritizing domestic terrorism. I think they should prioritize ALL domestic terrorism, not just “right-wing.” Just like I don’t believe the Trump Administration should just target “left-wing” domestic terrorism. It should all be fair game and investigated.

His plan self-refutes the idea that domestic terrorism isn’t already a priority when it says, “FBI Director Christopher Wray recently testified that there have been almost as many domestic terror arrests in the first three quarters of the fiscal year — about 100 — as there have been arrests connected to international terror.”

If there have been just as many arrests for domestic terrorism as those connected to international terror how can he honestly say domestic terrorism is not a priority for the Trump Administration?

It sounds to me that the FBI are focused on both.

O’Rourke wants to go further. He wants to “require large social media platforms to create systems designed to remove hateful activities on their sites.”

His plan explains:

Beto would require large internet platforms to adopt terms of service to ban hateful activities, defined as those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.  These companies also would be required to put in place systems designed to identify and act on content violating the terms of service. Platforms must be transparent when they block content and provide for an appeal process in order to guard against abuse.

We’ve already seen how social media companies have abused policies like these and O’Rourke wants to make it mandatory.

Then following the playbook of U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., he wants to remove the immunity clause in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act:

Beto supports amending Section 230 of the CDA to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above. Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.

I thought Hawley’s bill was a bad idea and O’Rourke’s idea is just as bad. The best way to combat bad speech is with more speech.

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