Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke fielded questions from Ohio State University students Tuesday at a town hall in the Ohio Union.
The former Texas congressman argued that President Trumps harsh immigration rhetoric prompted last month’s shooting at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso. Pressed on his idea for a mandatory buyback of certain assault rifles, O’Rourke insisted those weapons aren’t appropriate for civilians.
“In the same way that we would never allow someone to have a bazooka or drive a tank down the street because you just don’t need it in civilian life in America," O'Rourke said, "we don’t need AR-15s and AK-47s."
The student who asked about the gun buyback was Ohio State senior Thomas Toomey. He identifies as gay, and is a Navy veteran, who served under the "Don’t Ask Don't Tell" policy. As part of a minority group, Toomey said staying safe is deeply important to him.
The two calmly traded arguments, with Toomey questioning the constitutionality of a buyback, and O’Rourke asking why some other weapon wouldn’t be sufficient protection.
After the event, Toomey noted O’Rourke isn’t his preferred candidate but he was curious to hear him talk more about his position on firearms.
“I do think it’s going to be an uphill battle for him,” Toomey said. “I don’t think it’s an easy battle. I agree with him in certain aspects but I do not think that confiscating all guns or all AR-15s and AK-47s is going to work for him without violating the Constitution.”
Gun rights groups, including the Buckeye Firearms Association, have also criticized O'Rourke's gun proposals. The former Congressman says opposition to an assault rifle ban is motivated by a sense of resistance that goes beyond simple self-defense.
“For us to be able to bear arms against our government or a tyranny that we may oppose,” he explained. “My reading of the Constitution, the Second Amendment and U.S. history, is that that issue was decided in a court house called Appomattox in Virginia at the end of The Civil War.”
In addition to guns, immigration dominated the evening, with O’Rourke promising not to detain people seeking asylum or refuge. He went on to say if immigration is a problem, “It is the best f---ing problem this country has ever had.”
O’Rourke spoke about his health plan, too, which enrolls the uninsured in Medicare, but leaves the existing insurance market intact.
He also proposed refinancing all student debt at the lowest possible rate, and overhauling the program that forgives student loans in exchange for public service.