Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat and presidential hopeful, recently made the comment, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” O’rourke declared this striking, new campaign promise of a mandatory gun buy-back during an impassioned plea made at the last Democratic presidential debate. O’rourke was asked by the debate moderator what he would do about gun control if elected President.
The only problem with the congressman’s promise is that it’ll never happen. Here’s why:
Most Americans Won’t Comply
A simple truth provides a rather large hurdle for Mr. O’rourke’s ambitions: Many Americans simply don’t like the government telling them they need to give something up (also see: “Prohibition”). But we don’t need to look back to the 1920’s to see this is true:
When Connecticut in 2013 required all AR-15 owners to register their weapons as “assault weapons”, just 11% of residents complied. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), said at the time that it estimated there were likely 350,000 residents who had “assault weapons” as of late 2013.
Yet the Connecticut State Police said they only received 41,347 weapon registration applications. The same noncompliance occurred at an even greater rate in New York in 2014. In April of that year, the state’s SAFE Act required AR-15s to be registered as assault weapons, too. Yet out of nearly 1 million gun owners who owned a black rifle, just under 44,000 willingly registered. That’s a compliance rate of around 4%.
And consider that this noncompliance is a response to mere registration. Never mind outright confiscation.
Police Probably Won’t Enforce the Law, Anyway
Much to the chagrin of politicians, American law enforcement officers don’t like to enforce laws they personally find unconstitutional. Widespread opposition to the SAFE Act’s new requirements was so great in New York, many officers simply refused to arrest gun owners in the state:
“According to statistics compiled by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, there have been just 11 arrests for failure to register an otherwise-legal assault weapon since the SAFE Act took effect in March 2013 and 62 for possession of a large capacity magazine. In Ulster County, where 463 assault weapons have been registered, there have been just three arrests for possession of large-capacity magazines and none for failure to register an assault weapon,” Hudson Valley One reports.
New York County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum has been a vocal critic of the law, remarking, “We’re a rural county with a lot of gun enthusiasts… We are not actively out looking to enforce any aspect of the SAFE Act.”
Many Sheriffs across the nation have taken similar stances against gun control. When asked about his own duty to enforce the law and new gun control, Sheriff Mike Lewis of Maryland said, “State police and highway patrol get their orders from the governor. I get my orders from the citizens in this county.”
We can pull many more examples of officers siding with the Second Amendment, but we don’t need to. Even if every uniformed officer in the nation willfully complied with a federal gun buyback, the program would fail.
Why, you ask?
There are Over 20 Million AR-15s in America
Yes, that’s 20 million sporting rifles, according to the NSSF last year. The number is probably much higher (we’ll explain why shortly). This figure won’t just grow, it’ll accelerate as the nation gets closer to the 2020 election.
In fact, every 1 in 10 weapons produced each year in America is already a modern sporting rifle built on the AR-15 platform. Americans have now purchased almost as many black rifles as they have Nintendo gaming consoles.
But to date, no politician has provided an answer to how they’ll plan on remove 20 million rifles from the American gun market – or the black market. And voluntary gun buybacks are popular but ineffective, experts say. Data says buyback campaigns usually end up capturing hunting rifles and old revolvers, not modern rifles.
A buyback in Tucson, Arizona, collected about 200 firearms, many of them old or inoperable, in exchange for about $10,000 worth of grocery gift cards. Just a few hundred feet away, gun dealers set up tables and offered cash for any guns in good enough condition to resell.
The “Common Use” Argument Probably Isn’t Over
The Second Amendment was created for one purpose, and the Supreme Court agrees with this interpretation: To allow the American citizenry to remain armed, as a collective militia, in defense of America as a free state.
In District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, Supreme Court Justice Scalia wrote in 2008 that outright banning handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment:
“The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense.”
Scalia also writes in the same ruling: “Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”
Importantly, Scalia affirms that the Miller ruling applies to the consideration of this handgun ban: That a weapon in common use at the time can’t be banned. He also says that “dangerous and unusual weapons” can’t receive the same constitutional protection.
All these arguments can be made quite easily for the AR-15: It’s in common use. It’s the most popular rifle bought and sold in America, used for hunting, competition shooting, and personal defense. It cannot be defined as dangerous and unusual.
There are Many More Black Rifles in Circulation
Just last year, Federal Bill H. R. 7115 was introduced to the House of Representatives. This bill has stalled since, but it calls for banning the import and sale of “certain firearm receiver castings or blanks, assault weapon parts kits, and machinegun parts kits and the marketing or advertising of such castings or blanks and kits on any medium of electronic communications, to require homemade firearms to have serial numbers, and for other purposes.”
In 1968, the Gun Control Act affirmed one right that complements the Second Amendment: The right to build a gun at home, without having to deal with any paperwork or government agency. It’s completely legal to do, and hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of gun owners have purchased these exact AR-15 kits and 80% lower receivers for as long as they’ve been on the market.
Building a weapon at home is legal, but the finished firearm doesn’t require a serial number, and the owner need not submit to a background check or FFL paperwork filings. The result is a weapon that is technically “off the books” – even by manufacturers.
Because the unfinished firearm kits aren’t legally considered guns, manufacturers don’t have to serialize and record their production. Kits and receiver blanks like these can be shipped directly to the consumer, making their tracking (and proposed confiscation) virtually impossible.
Banning AR-15s Won’t Do Anything to Stop Violence
Even though there are over 20 million known AR-15s in the U.S., they comprise just a fraction of the guns owned by Americans. In fact, the American population now officially owns over half the world’s guns – that’s over 400 million firearms.
While the AR-15 has been used in multiple mass shootings, banning the modern sporting rifle won’t reduce such shootings. Just like we saw in Virginia, mass shooters will use handguns, shotguns, and any other weapon available to them. That doesn’t just include firearms. In fact, focusing on guns is the wrong answer entirely, experts say. Many of the world’s most deadly mass killings are carried out with weapons that aren’t firearms.
Beto O'rourke certainly made an impassioned claim to rid America of AR-15s. In this case, it appears passion has superseded many facts.