Beto O’Rourke won’t take guns away from criminals and the mentally ill

In a clear statement of support for the right to bear arms during a presidential campaign, @BetoORourke pledges “to protect the Second Amendment” and “take all guns” from criminal (and mentally ill) people. That’d violate both the Constitution and Texas law. — Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) December 7, 2018

Democratic presidential candidate and former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is standing by an announcement he made in a video released Thursday that outlined his stance on guns.

“The Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, just as the First Amendment guarantees an individual right to free speech,” O’Rourke said in the video posted to his YouTube channel. “And just as the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to bear arms.”

“In this country, I believe that it is my right as an American to exercise that right, and, like millions of Americans, I believe the individual right to bear arms is a bedrock principle of our Constitutional democracy,” he said.

With a gun violence prevention movement that has reached a critical mass in recent months, O’Rourke has been the target of criticism from activists and advocates for those who believe his stance on guns is beyond the mainstream and contradictory to some activists’ experiences with violence.

O’Rourke — who recently announced that he is running for president — is not the first Democratic candidate to make an anti-gun statement in an announcement video, but his pledge to “take all guns” from criminals and the mentally ill is unprecedented in the primary process thus far.

The video was released on the heels of Democratic candidates calling for universal background checks in the wake of the mass shooting in a Florida high school in February.

O’Rourke’s pledge to take guns away from criminals and mentally ill people, rather than just ex-convicts, also comes with significant legal uncertainty.

According to CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos, most states have laws stating that people convicted of felonies and the mentally ill are not allowed to have guns, but those laws can be vague or conflicting.

“A lot of these state laws are sort of hazy,” Cevallos told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin Thursday. “You have to look at the wording in a lot of these laws. … But the fact that there’s ambiguity in some of these state laws does, indeed, present a challenge for the prosecutors to be able to seek those gun confiscations, because it’s not always clear, at the federal level, exactly how the feds are going to define or interpret those laws.”

He added, “Bottom line is this: If you are a person convicted of a felony, you cannot have a gun. If you are mentally ill, you cannot have a gun. So that does cut across a lot of our obligations, but it seems to me that the question of intent is really important for a prosecutor to use to go to take away a gun.”

When asked by CNN’s Dana Bash why he would not seize guns from felons who are considered to be “criminals,” O’Rourke replied, “Because we have a documented and a viable domestic policy that prevents felons and the mentally ill from having guns, and we have the opposite policies in place for people who are nonviolent offenders or people who have become mentally ill.”

And Cevallos wasn’t the only legal expert to weigh in on the issue. CNN’s legal analyst Danny Cevallos said O’Rourke’s statement could create a problem for the government.

Cevallos pointed out that one of the main rules of gun laws and prosecutions is to not make firearms a tool of some but to only use them against an individual who has specifically committed a crime.

“If you are just declaring that you are going to take guns from criminals and mentally ill people but are not making any distinction between what are protected guns and non-protected guns, that is not lawful or legitimate,” Cevallos said.

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