In the wake of the recent deadly mass shootings, Democratic presidential candidates are stepping up calls for the federal government to start buying firearms from gun owners, with Beto O’Rourke and others going as far as seeking a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons.
O’Rourke, whose home state of Texas has seen two massacres in the last month, was asked over the weekend how he would address some gun owners’ concerns that the government could be planning to take away their firearms. He did not mince words.
“I want to be really clear that that’s exactly what we are going to do,” O’Rourke replied. “Americans who own AR-15s, AK-47s, will have to sell them to the government.”
O’Rourke doubled down when he tweeted out video of his comments. “I was asked how I’d address people’s fears that we will take away their assault rifles,” he wrote Monday alongside the video. “I want to be clear: That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
“Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s will have to sell their assault weapons,” he continued. “All of them.”
On Tuesday, Walmart announced a decision to discontinue the sale of handgun ammunition in their stores. The company also requested that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in their stores, even in stores where state laws allow it.
Last month, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 20 people and injuring 26 others. More recently, a shooting in a western Texas highway left seven people dead and nearly two dozen injured.
O’Rourke said he was “grateful” for Walmart’s move and called it a “step in the right direction” but pushed for additional measures, including the buyback program.
“[W]e can’t rely on corporations to stop gun violence,” O’Rourke tweeted. “We need universal background checks, we need red flag laws, and we need to buy back every single assault weapon.”
A growing number of 2020 Democrats have taken a similar stance, calling for either optional or mandatory federal gun buyback programs to reduce the estimated 400 million guns owned by civilians in America.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in a recent interview with Vox, said he believes there should be an “outright ban” on assault weapons and, like O'Rourke, wants a "mandatory" turnover program.
“I know this is something that ultimately we [need to] get the Democratic Party on board with, but I would like to see a buyback program and a mandatory turnover,” he told the outlet last month.
Politico reports that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also supports a mandatory program.
Other Democratic candidates – including former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock – have voiced support for some sort of buyback program, albeit a voluntary one.
“I think we should have voluntary buybacks,” Bullock said last month. “Let’s look at this as a public health issue. I don’t support a mandatory buyback.”
But the option may be more popular on the campaign trail than elsewhere. Gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety suggests they are focused on pushing other legislative remedies.
A spokesman for the group said in a statement to Fox News, "Presidential candidates are talking about a number of policies to address gun violence in America. What Americans are demanding now is for the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to require background checks on all gun sales and a federal Red Flag law. Those need to be the Senate's first priorities."
Gun rights groups, meanwhile, argue the idea is nothing short of confiscation.
“What you see the Democrat candidates are doing is they simply want to demonize firearms and they’re coming up with the same old failed policies that haven’t worked in the past,” said Erich Pratt, the president of Gun Owners of America.
Some cities, like Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles, have had buyback programs in the past, but this marks the first time the issue has caught fire on the national stage as a federal proposal.
Fox News’ Andrew Craft contributed to this report.