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Vulnerable Democrats worry Beto puts too much focus on guns

llustration of a giant hand in a suit holding a tiny AR-15
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats in swing seats are more comfortable supporting new gun restrictions than they were just a few years ago, but most still aren't on board with Beto O'Rourke's "hell, yeah" stance on confiscating assault weapons.

Why it matters: Some vulnerable Democrats up for reelection next year are nervous that too much attention is being paid to mandatory gun buyback programs — thanks to Beto — ahead of 2020.

  • Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Reps. Cindy Axne (Iowa-3), Susie Lee (Nev.-3) and Angie Craig (Minn.-2), all told Axios they don't support mandatory buybacks for assault rifles.
  • Some 2020 presidential candidates also refuse to go as far as Beto: Andrew Yang and Sen. Amy Klobuchar support voluntary buyback programs, and the plan by Sen. Elizabeth Warren includes a mandatory assault weapon registration or buyback.
  • Yes, but: Joe Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker support mandatory assault weapon buyback programs.

Our thought bubble: Regardless of the divide within the party, O'Rourke has successfully shifted the debate so that expanded background checks or an assault weapons ban look more modest by comparison.

The big picture: Democrats' divisions on buybacks reflect America's divisions. Just over half of Americans polled by Monmouth University said they somewhat or strongly opposed the idea of an assaults weapons buyback program