Politics & Government

It’s personal: Why SC voters see hope in Beto O’Rourke’s gun buyback idea

Shanna Childs said she had no idea the damage gun violence could cause until her godson, Cody Hawkins, was killed in May by a single bullet, taking the father away from his now 2-year-old son, and leaving a mother without the youngest of her three children.

“(When) it hits your door, it turns on a fight inside of you,” Childs told The State Thursday. “My biggest prayer is that another mother will not have to wake up to the phone call that Cody’s mom had to get,” Childs said.

Hawkins’ death in May is why she has decided to back Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke. Following his calls to buy back “weapons of war,” O’Rourke has launched a five-state campaign that includes South Carolina to target gun violence and help build momentum around his platform.

And Childs has stepped up to be a foot soldier in that effort.

“I am ready to do whatever I can do on my part to help the Beto 2020 campaign,” Childs said.

To achieve its goal, the O’Rourke campaign is identifying volunteers in South Carolina and supplying them with material to help “activate the country’s next wave of gun safety advocates,” according to the campaign.

The effort will build up with a series of campaign activities the first weekend of October.

The campaign effort could help spark momentum for the presidential candidate in early primary states, including among young voters in South Carolina where he has sought to boost his name recognition and poll numbers.

But while attractive to primary voters, observers say general election voters, in say South Carolina, may not be sold on the idea.

“It definitely seems that folks are starting to demand more action from their elected officials, and ... with younger voters it’ll probably play well,” said Gibbs Knotts, who chairs the College of Charleston’s political science department. “But ... (South Carolina) is still a strong Second Amendment state and I think there’s a danger of maybe going too far in a traditional state like South Carolina.”

‘Words to action’

The launch of the gun reform campaign by O’Rourke in South Carolina and other states will coincide with a presidential forum on Oct. 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada, held by Arizona’s former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of gun violence herself, and March for Our Lives, created after the Florida high school shooting in 2018.

“We’re matching our words to action,” said 19-year-old Jacob Gamble, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, who chairs O’Rourke’s South Carolina Students for Beto and will play a role in helping the campaign connect and do training with students.

That means phone banking, knocking on doors and canvassing communities across the state. It also means, the campaign said, calling on credit card companies to help stop the sale of assault weapons and calling on lawmakers in Washington to pass gun reform.

O’Rourke’s campaign cited a Sept. 9 Washington Post-ABC News poll that found 52% of U.S. adults — 74% Democrats, 49% Independents and 31% Republicans — support a mandatory gun buyback program to turn over assault weapons for payment.

As a high school student, Gamble helped create Lowcountry Students for Political Action, a grassroots gun-control group.

“We’re having a robust national conversation about gun reform, not in response to a particular mass shooting but in response to the debate” where O’Rourke told a televised audience that as president he would push legislation to buy back AR-15’s and AK-47’s, Gamble said.

Beto’s remarks land him support

From the debate stage in Houston last week, former U.S. House Rep. O’Rourke was asked about his gun buyback program.

The native of El Paso, Texas — now home to one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings that claimed 22 lives — responded, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

That sparked a wildfire of criticism from Republicans, including President Donald Trump, who argued O’Rourke’s comment would make it harder to strike a deal with Democrats in Congress. Even O’Rourke’s primary opponent Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, said he agreed that O’Rourke’s statement played into Republican’s hands.

As that debate continues, one gun manufacturer has taken its own steps to curb access to AR-15s, even without a directive from Congress. Citing a shift in consumer demand, gun-maker Colt said Thursday it planned to suspend production of rifles for the civilian market, including selling of the AR-15, and instead focus on its military and police contracts, The Associated Press reported.

O’Rourke’s remarks from the debate helped land him two endorsements from the state: Childs and Sharon Klompus, the former state leader of the S.C. chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national group launched after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“When I went to the debate watch party (last Thursday), I saw how he answered the question (about guns) and it turned something in me. I felt a passion,” said Childs, who said her godson’s killer still has not been arrested. “I want someone who is really passionate about stopping gun violence and really sincere about making things happen, getting guns out of the hands of the wrong people.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
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