U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, expected severe blowback from the gun lobby when he began to talk openly about banning possession of assault weapons. But who could have imagined that it would extend to a Facebook post celebrating his son’s first birthday?
“Look at this,” Swalwell said, pulling out his cell phone to scroll through the 230 comments on the post from earlier this month. Among the heart emoji and exclamations of “adorable!” and “congratulations!” were caustic calls for Swalwell to leave the country — or others that were more explicit and vile.
It’s a good thing Nelson is too young to read.
“They have focused their fire on every post I make,” Swalwell said. “They just light you up.”
While Congress has failed to act on even the most modest gaps in gun laws — imposing universal background checks, raising the age to 21 on rifle sales, banning the “bump stocks” that essentially turn semiautomatic rifles into machine guns — the escalating wave of massacres has prompted Swalwell to go where few elected officials dare to venture. In a recent opinion piece in USA Today, the third-term congressman proposed a national buyback of all military-style semiautomatic assault weapons.
Once that buyback is completed, under Swalwell’s proposal, it would be illegal to possess the type of guns that have become the weapon of choice for mass killers. Four of the five worst shooting massacres in modern U.S. history have been inflicted in the past year and a half.
“Other countries have mental health issues ... other countries have video games that are violent ... but no other country comes close to having that number of assault weapons, if they allow them at all,” Swalwell said in an Thursday interview in a Pleasanton coffee shop.
Ever so predictably, the National Rifle Association reacted as if Swalwell were advocating the repeal of the Second Amendment. He has made clear he is not: His ban would preserve myriad options for Americans to possess guns for self-defense, hunting or sport.
NRA TV’s Dan Gongino said Swalwell’s comments were so dumb that just watching his explanation on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show would make a viewer’s IQ go down “five or six points.” Carlson mocked the idea, asking Swalwell, “Do you think that you would have a civil war? Are you worried about that?”
It’s understandable why the absolutists in the gun lobby would be so unnerved.
What Swalwell is proposing would thoroughly pierce two of their main arguments against reinstatement of the 1994 ban on the manufacture or sale of semiautomatic guns, weapons with “military style features,” and large capacity magazines. (Authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ban expired in 2004 and Congress has failed to renew it.)
The NRA and other gun advocates dismiss any ban on new assault weapons as hopelessly futile because there already are so many in circulation (between 8.5 million and 15 million by the NRA’s estimate; the AR-15 has been called “America’s most popular rifle”). They also trot out their old line that there are more than enough laws on the books, and it’s a matter of enforcing them.
Yet massacre after massacre has shown that the very existence of assault weapons, even if legally purchased after a background check, poses a public-safety hazard. The shooter in the Oct. 1, 2017, assault at a Las Vegas concert legally purchased 33 weapons in the previous year; the shooter in the Dec. 14, 2012, rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School used his mother’s legally purchased weapons.
Swalwell is well aware that his idea has no chance in the current Congress. He also concedes that it would be expensive — perhaps up to $15 billion — to buy back the guns. But the former prosecutor is adamant that the conversation must go beyond incremental tinkering with gun laws. He has been inspired, in part, by the courage and conviction of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., demanding action after their classmates were gunned down on Valentine’s Day.
Their outrage resonates among students in Swalwell’s East Bay district.
“I’ve heard Livermore High School students tell me that when a book or tablet drops off a desk, everyone jumps because it might be a gunshot,” he said. “When a fire alarm rings, they do this calculation in their heads: Should I stay and risk burning in a fire ... or do I flee and risk walking into a trap that a shooter has set?”
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action chastised Swalwell and others who have cited Australia’s success in buying back semiautomatic weapons after a massacre that claimed 35 lives in 1996. Australia has not had a mass shooting since.
“Australian-style gun control ... is completely foreign to and incompatible with America’s history, tradition and rights of firearm ownership,” the NRA group wrote on its website.
Swalwell invoked the mantra of the Parkland students.
“Their right to live was paramount to any other right,” he said.
Think of all the birthdays that won’t be celebrated, in Parkland, Newtown, Las Vegas and too many other places, because of the lethality of firearms capable of mass destruction the crafters of the Second Amendment never could have anticipated.
Article: John Diaz, San Francisco Chronicle