The ‘motherfucker’ who enraged Beto O’Rourke laughed at his claims about the rifles he wants to confiscate


“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” Beto O’Rourke famously declared during a 2019 Democratic presidential debate. That line, which immediately appeared on T-shirts sold by the former Texas congressman’s campaign, was designed to energize anti-gun Democrats. But it simultaneously gave ammunition to Republicans by contradicting a long history of assurances from Democratic politicians (including O’Rourke) that their support for gun control did not mean they were bent on confiscating firearms from law-abiding Americans.

O’Rourke, who is now running against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, still thinks that demonizing “assault weapons”—and, by implication, the millions of Americans who own guns that fall into that arbitrary, politically defined category—is a smart electoral strategy. In the wake of the May 24 massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, O’Rourke has been arguing that Abbott has blood on his hands because he opposes “assault weapon” bans. If only the governor had supported such legislation, O’Rourke argues, the 19 students and two teachers murdered in Uvalde would still be alive.

The main problem with that argument is that “assault weapon” bans, because they are based on features that do not affect a rifle’s capacity to kill people, leave would-be mass murderers with plenty of equally (or more) lethal alternatives. President Joe Biden has acknowledged that fact, even while contradictorily arguing that the 1994 federal ban, which expired in 2004, reduced mass-shooting deaths. But O’Rourke either does not understand this point or is determined to obscure it, as illustrated by his profane, self-righteous rebuke of an Abbott supporter who laughed at his claims about AR-15s during a campaign event in Mineral Wells this week.

Press coverage of that incident asserted that the heckler, one of several Abbott supporters at the event, was laughing about the Uvalde massacre, which is how O’Rourke interpreted it. “It may be funny to you, motherfucker, but it’s not funny to me, OK?” he said, drawing wild cheers from his supporters. But it is clear from video of the encounter that the laughter was provoked by O’Rourke’s claim that the AR-15 was “originally designed for use on the battlefields in Vietnam to penetrate an enemy soldier’s helmet at 500 feet and knock him down dead.”

The implication was that the AR-15, compared to other rifles that legislators have not classified as “assault weapons,” is especially powerful and therefore especially deadly. But that is plainly not true.

“In World War I,” notes hunting columnist Steve Sorensen in the Jamestown Gazette, “our soldiers carried the .30 Gov’t rifle (now called the .30-06 Springfield) which sent a 150 grain bullet toward the enemy at roughly 2,900 feet per second, and produced about 2,800 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Today’s modern American military uses the 5.56 NATO cartridge (the civilian equal is the .223). Its 55 grain bullet (about a third the weight of the .30-06 bullet) exits the barrel at roughly 3,200 feet per second (a little faster than the .30-06), producing less than half the energy, a mere 1,300 foot-pounds. So anyone shooting an AR-15 (or one of its cloned siblings) is firing a pipsqueak bullet compared to what our military used a century ago.”

People who want to ban AR-15-style rifles, Sorensen says, “seem oblivious to the fact that most deer hunters use much more powerful guns.” This video, which compares .223 rounds to .30-06 rounds by showing what happens when both are fired at watermelons, vividly illustrates that point.

Sorensen notes that “some jurisdictions even outlaw the .223 for deer, not because it’s too deadly, but because it’s not deadly enough.” He adds that “the AR-15 with its small caliber bullet” nevertheless “has many applications for hunters. Some predator hunters use them and, in certain states that permit hunters to use semi-automatic rifles, they are used for small deer, coyotes, jackrabbits, feral hogs and other varmints.”

Contrary to what O’Rourke seems to think, the definition of “assault weapon” is not based on destructive capability. With or without the features that legislators typically target (things like folding or adjustable stocks, pistol grips, barrel shrouds, and threaded barrels), a rifle fires the same ammunition at the same rate with the same muzzle velocity.

The “motherfucker” who enraged O’Rourke may have been rude, but O’Rourke—who heckled Abbott during a May 25 press conference about the Uvalde mass shooting, blaming the governor for failing to stop the attack by banning “assault weapons”—is hardly a model of decorum himself. And the laughing Abbott supporter had a point: He laughed because O’Rourke did not know what he was talking about.

O’Rourke’s interpretation, that the guy laughed because he thought there was something amusing about the murder of schoolchildren, is totally implausible in context. But it is of a piece with O’Rourke’s assumption that critics of “assault weapon” bans are, at best, cruelly indifferent to such horrifying crimes. The idea that they might honestly disagree with him about the merits of the policy he is pushing never seems to enter his mind.



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