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Beto's Buyback

Beto O'Rourke made headlines in the latest Democratic debate. When asked, based on a previous statement he had made endorsing gun buybacks, whether he was actually proposing taking away citizens' guns, he answered:

Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

This line won O'Rourke a round of enthusiastic applause in the auditorium, but has not gone over as well in the rest of the country. Although polls show most Americans support some gun restrictions, a plurality oppose mandatory buybacks.

The Republican pushback was swift and forceful. Townhall.com editor Katie Pavlich questioned the validity of the terms "assault weapon" and "buyback".  David Harsanyi of the Federalist called O'Rourke's proposal the "first gun grab since Lexington and Concord."

And although Democratic strategist Jim Demers claims gun control is a winning issue for Democrats, polls suggest otherwise. It tends to be an issue following mass shootings, but is otherwise not on most people's radar.

For example, just after the Parkland, Florida, shooting that killed 17 people, the percentage of Americans who named guns and gun control as the most important problem facing the nation hit a record high of 13 percent. One month later, that number had fallen to 6 percent. Over the past year, the percentage of Americans who said guns were their top political issue has remained steady at 1 percent.

CNN's Chris Cillizza points out that O'Rourke's pledge dovetails with Republican talking points on the issue.

For decades, the National Rifle Association -- and its Republican allies in Congress and now in the White House -- have used the idea of confiscation to win the gun debate. If Democrats were in control, they'd come to your house and take your guns!, the argument goes. It's why gun purchases soared in the immediate aftermath of Barack Obama's election in 2008, for example.

Now Tomi Lahren of Fox News can say without hesitation:

Finally they're being transparent. We have been saying for years that they want to take our guns and it was always just, 'Oh you stupid hillbillies, we don't want to take your guns.

Most Americans don't like gun violence, but they also don't like government mandates. To the extent the gun buyback becomes an issue, it is most likely to energize the 43% of Americans who have at least one gun in their household.

And even if Democrats win both houses of Congress and the presidency, and are able to pass buyback legislation, and convince gun owners to go through with it, it won't solve anything. Eliminating the AR-15 and the AK-47 will simply spur interest in DIY assault rifles. As 3D printers become more cost-effective, more civilians will gain the ability to make untraceable unregistered homemade weapons.

I don't know what a real solution to America's gun violence problem might look like, but I know it doesn't look like a mandatory buyback.

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