Texas GOP legislator threatens Beto O’Rourke over proposed assault rifle ban

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s not-entirely-unreasonable remark in Thursday night’s debate that, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, we are not going to allow them to be used against fellow Americans anymore,” prompted an angry response from Texas state Rep. Brisco Cain, “a pro-gun, Republican lawmaker,” who tweeted, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.”

Twitter promptly removed Cain’s tweet for violating its terms of service, and the O’Rourke campaign said it has reported Cain’s threat to the FBI. Read story here and here.

Military-style assault rifles figure prominently in U.S. mass shootings, and O’Rourke has become more outspoken about banning them since last month’s El Paso shooting that left 22 innocent people dead, although what O’Rourke has been proposing is a mandatory buyback, not outright confiscation — i.e., the government would be compensate gun owners whose firearms were surrendered or taken.

These weapons were designed for military use, and specifically to inflict maximum casualties in a battlefield environment, but semi-automatic civilian versions have become extremely popular among gun aficionados. Some sources estimate more than 10 million have been sold in the U.S. to civilian purchasers since 2008.

A;though fully automatic assault rifles, such as those used by the military and police, require a hard-to-get federal license, it’s relatively easy to convert the civilian versions to rapid fire that approximates the rate of fire of a machinegun. The best known way to do this is with a so-called “bump stock,” which is how a lone gunman managed to shoot nearly 500 people attending a Las Vegas concert in 2017. But you don’t even need a bump stock; you can achieve the same effect with your bare hands, if you know the technique (I haven’t checked recently, but a while ago, you could find YouTube videos demonstrating the technique).

Although the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment protects a right of individual ownership of firearms, the court signaled that right is not unlimited, and lower courts have upheld assault-weapon bans in the past. Outright confiscation might be found to violate the takings clause, but paying reasonable compensation — as O’Rourke has proposed — almost certainly would avoid that objection to removing assault rifles from civilian ownership and possession.

Pro-gun advocates like Cain often are passionate about their devotion to their guns, and their belief in a no-holds-barred constitutional right to own them and even flaunt them in public (i.e., the “open-carry” movement), and in all likelihood Cain’s remark was merely overheated rhetoric and won’t lead to serious consequences for him — although it probably should, because it’s all too easy for provocative rhetoric to trigger the next nut with a grudge against an employer, co-workers, or some minority group lurking in the shadows.

Mass civilian ownership of military-style assault rifles is a bad idea, period. It’s generally associated with lawless places like Somalia. Here in the U.S., the easy availability of these weapons virtually ensures that mass shooters can and will get their hands on them. The awful result needs no discussion here; you read it — almost daily, it seems — in the news.

Some will argue that banning and confiscating these weapons punishes law-abiding gun owners. But that argument is specious, because there’s no legitimate reason for those gun owners to possess weapons that were designed and intended only for military and law enforcement use. This is like saying everyone should be entitled to put flashing blue lights and a siren on their vehicle to get through traffic faster. And the fact that millions of them have been sold does not justify leaving them in public hands; it simply makes the job of keeping them out of public hands harder and more expensive.

The ultimate test of their arguments, of course, will come in the courts. Should even a conservative-dominated Supreme Court rule that governments (federal, state, or both) can prohibit or restrict private ownership and possession of these weapons, that should be argument-ending. And such a ruling would be neither surprising nor precedent-setting; previous court rulings have upheld what the courts consider reasonable regulation of firearms, including bans on certain types of weapons. You can’t, for example, own or possess most other types of military weapons.

As for Brisco Cain, he deserves — at the very least — a stern rebuke from his own Republican colleagues in the Texas legislature. It has always been universally recognized in this country that threatening someone is neither free speech protected by the First Amendment nor legitimate debate. If he wants to debate the issue, fine; there usually are arguments on both sides of contentious issues. But threatening to kill the person on the other side of the debate isn’t debating, it’s violence. America’s political culture has a long history of vigorous debate, and an equally strong tradition of eschewing political violence. Let’s not descend into that. And let’s not put up with people who would drag us down into that.

Photo: Texas GOP state Rep. Brisco Cain (pictured) made an unveiled threat against Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke after the latter argued in a debate that assault rifles should be taken out of circulation.


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  1. Mark Adams #

    Through most of US history civilians owned firearms equal to or better than the firearms used by the military. The AK 47 is the worlds most widespread weapon in the world, Over 100 million exist. It is rather silly to say Americans cannot own the weapon of choice of farmers in Afghanistan. And theirs are then full automatic type. And they can be buried for years.
    Australia now has the problem that 1.2 to ne half of the weapons it outlawed were never surrendered. Does the government actively pursue seizure? Of couse Mr, O’rouke won’t be showing up on someones porch to collect their guns. Unfortunate as someone in law enforcement will, and may get shot.
    Perhaps a better solution is issuing civilians their own M16 on request. File a restraining order and receive a derringer to protect yourself with. Maybe more guns would ensure a more polite society. Civilians should be able to own any gun the local police have. If the police really need that kind of fire power perhaps you and I do as well. Of course the police being armed and the police really loving their guns is a large part of the problem. Disarming the police in general may make ours a more secure society, and law enforcement emphasizing firearms might relax the dominate gun culture of America.

  2. theaveeditor #

    Absurd argument .. Afghanistan???

    for most of history? When did civilians have guided missiles, jet fighters, saran gas, mustard gas????????

    As for folks breaking the law, that is why we have laws.

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