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The Gun Control Question That Stopped Eric Swalwell In His Tracks

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

California Rep. Eric Swalwell is not just a fresh-faced rising star in the Democratic party, he’s also one of the few high-profile liberal politicians who have showed a willingness to mix it up with the best conservative thinkers and arguments out there, as his multiple forays into the ideological lion’s den of Tucker Carlson Tonight attest. Sure, Swalwell almost always emerges from those battles bloody and bruised, figuratively speaking, but to his credit he takes his knocks and keeps on fighting, always willing to take on the ‘enemy’ on his own turf. For that, he has earned my grudging respect. Eric Swalwell may be a leftist and by definition insanely wrong on the majority of issues but at least he, unlike most, has the courage of his convictions and seems to genuinely believe his arguments will hold up against scrutiny.

Which is why the California congressman’s weekend Twitter exchange with NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch on the subject of assault weapons was particularly telling because of its abrupt, Swalwell-induced end.

The exchange began on Friday when Swalwell, who had already made news that day by suggesting that the U.S. government could use nuclear weapons against citizens who might use arms to resist its gun confiscation efforts, replied to a Loesch tweet about his proposed assault weapons “confiscation” plan with an affirmative “she’s not lying.”

Loesch then responded to Swalwell’s tweet by asking if he would “limit the ban and confiscation to semi-automatic rifles” or include handguns as well, “seeing as they’re illegally used many times over more in crimes such as homicide?” 

“Fair question,” responded Swalwell. “Rifles. They’re more powerful and cause more carnage when used with a pistol-grip. See @ScottPelley @60Minutes piece. To reduce semi-auto pistol deaths I’d have universal background checks and mandatory reporting on mental health.”

NBC reporter Benjy Sarlin interjected with a clarification question: “Do you plan to expand your proposal to all semi-auto rifles now? When we talked earlier you kept it to rifles covered by the Assault Weapons Ban, but was unsure from your exchange with Dana Loesch.” 

“No different,” wrote the California congressman. “I interpreted her question to mean semi-auto rifles covered under what’s considered an assault weapon.”

Then Loesch dropped the hammer:

“Can you explain to me the difference between assault weapons and semi-automatic rifles? Is .223 ok but 30.06 not? Why?” asked Loesch.

Unlike the first one, this apparently wasn’t a “fair question,” or at least it wasn’t one Swalwell was willing or presumably able to answer.

“I guess @RepSwalwell is unable to answer this question,” Loesch pressed after Swalwell failed to respond. Then the NRA spokeswoman used several tweets to reveal her reasons why:

“This simply reinforces my suspicion that Swalwell uses ‘assault weapon’ interchangeably with ‘semi-auto rifle.’ He wants to legislate based on a rifle’s appearance and not the actual mechanics or caliber of the rifle. He and others know enough to stop short of saying ‘semi-auto rifles’ so they use the vague and non-technical ‘assault weapon’ descriptor as though they only mean some rifles and not all of them. Two problems with this. First, the majority of gun homicide is due to illegally possessed handguns. This is supported by FBI UCRs (2016 for example). Second, the argument is inconsistent. Example: you want to ban a .223/5.56 but not a .308 or 30.06? Have you actually compared these rifles? (See photo for reference.) You’re arguing for an unknowledgeable ban of things based strictly on cosmetic appearances. The argument also completely excludes a multitude of contributing variables from consideration, like the recidivism rate, the percentage of homicide driven by prohibited possessors, a cultural rot eroding respect for life, etc etc. Instead, people who claim to care so much for life and solutions, as you will see in the comments, would rather yell ‘WHORE!’ and ‘TERRORIST!’ at law-abiding gun owners than engage in any real good faith discussion on the issue, which is why we get nowhere.”

To Loesch, answering the question is “impossible without having to admit the goal is to ban all semi-auto firearms.”

And so the normally engaging and responsive California congressman remained silent. 

The lesson here, of course, is that gun controllers who know how to debate, as Swalwell does, will often attempt to seem friendly and ‘reasonable’ in their arguments. They’ll pick on the low-hanging fruit - those ‘scary assault weapons,’ for example - but will avoid letting the American public know their true intentions at all costs. That deer-hunting rifle hanging on your mantle may not be technically considered an ‘assault weapon’ right now, but if they’re able to ban semi-automatic “assault weapons” (their term) like the unfairly maligned AR-15, rest assured they’ll come for your deer rifle next. 

And when they have those, they won’t stop, because they never, ever do

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