MADISON — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has vowed to do the impossible.

“Hell, yes, we’re going take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said at the most recent Democratic presidential debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”

O’Rourke wants a ban on military-style weapons and a mandatory buyback program.

The proposal by the former congressman from Texas isn’t surprising. 1) It follows a spate of recent mass shootings, including two in his home state of Texas; 2) it’s the kind of red-meat headline grabber a candidate throws out when his presidential campaign is circling the drain.

Is such a buyback even possible? There are an estimated 16 million AR-15s and AK-47s in the United States. Even if those weapons were purchased at face value, it would cost — as Carl Sagan used to say — billions and billions of dollars to bring them in.

O’Rourke’s proposal has stoked fears among many gun owners that Democrats just want to take their guns away. And many gun-control advocates, including Democrats and law enforcement officials, don’t believe a mandatory buyback would work. Some law enforcement experts question whether a mass confiscation of firearms could be done effectively or safely.

A few days after the presidential debate, O’Rourke said of his assault weapons ban, “It’s not voluntary. ... It is mandatory. It will be the law. You will be required to comply with the law.

“As with many of our laws, we don’t go door to door searching people’s homes to see if they are, in fact, breaking the law. We expect people to comply with the law.”

I wouldn’t be so sure about that. In 2013, New York, the bluest of blue states, passed a law that Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the toughest gun law in the nation. The law didn’t ban AR-15s and AK-47s. It merely required New Yorkers to register their guns with the state.

To date, 44,000 of New York’s estimated 1 million assault weapons have been registered. And law enforcement has made few arrests for breaking the law.

And then there’s the small matter of the Second Amendment.

“Constitutional rights aren’t based on what you like. What’s the slippery slope of this?” Lara C. Smith, the national spokeswoman for the Liberal Gun Club, a nonprofit group of liberal gun owners, told The Associated Press. “If they’re going to take away these rights, what other rights are they going to take away?”

David Chipman, a retired agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who’s now an adviser to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has suggested an approach similar to that taken when automatic weapons were outlawed in 1986. He wants to require the firearms to be registered and heavily regulated but not confiscated.

“In some regards, this horse is out of the barn. For years, we’ve allowed these to be sold,” Chipman told the Christian Science Monitor.

Listen to the expert. It’s the only sensible and safe method to get at least some of these weapons off the street.

Charles Corder is a longtime editor and writer. Contact him at


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