“Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15.” 

Beto O’Rourke’s proclamation at the third Democratic presidential debate dominated the news last week. Though it was a revealing moment of candor, Beto shouldn’t worry gun owners. He holds no office, is at 1 percent in the polls, and will not be able to affect Texans’ gun rights in any material way in the foreseeable future. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick—not Beto—poses the biggest threat to Texas gun owners. Not only is he pushing a new law that would make greater strides towards Beto’s goal of gun confiscation than anything President Obama was ever able to achieve in eight years in office, but he also has the influence and power to ensure that law is passed.

Patrick wants to enact a law prohibiting private gun sales without a background check. While to a layperson this may seem innocuous, it would in practice remove Democrats’ most significant logistical barrier to confiscation by creating a gun registry.

That is, every purchaser of firearms going through a background check is required to fill out ATF Form 4473, which contains detailed information about the purchaser and the firearm purchased, including the type of weapon and serial number. The seller is required to keep the form on file for 20 years in the case of a completed sale and turn the forms over to the ATF if the seller goes out of business. 

The current system does not accurately record the location of every weapon because Form 4473 is not required for private sales. A law requiring background checks for such sales would create a complete record of firearm transfers—a registry—which is only a subpoena or congressional vote from the federal government’s possession. 

This explains the substantial backlash against Patrick. Sen. Ted Cruz called Patrick’s proposal “a serious mistake.” The NRA, which rarely calls out GOP statewide officials publicly, issued a scathing rebuke and accused him of being “unprincipled,” “ill-informed,” and “turning his back on Second Amendment supporters.” They are right. Gun confiscation is simply not possible in the United States without a law like the one Patrick is proposing.

Conservatives shouldn’t let Gov. Greg Abbott off the hook, either. Though the governor has been more subtle than Patrick, he has not completely backed off his past support for red-flag laws, which allow the government to confiscate guns from individuals who have not committed a crime and allow additional regulation of private sales. Though the governor’s “Safety Action Report” released last week doesn’t expressly include a red-flag law or mandatory background checks on private sales, it is nuanced to leave the door open to Patrick’s plan. 

Specifically, the report calls for “ways to make it easy, affordable, and beneficial for a private seller of firearms to voluntarily use background checks when selling firearms to strangers [emphasis mine].” The definition of the words “voluntary” and “beneficial” are unclear but extremely important. If, for example, the governor intends to make it “beneficial” to use a background check for private sales by imposing civil liability where one is not used, the background checks are not truly voluntary. 

It is distressing that Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey promptly issued a statement applauding Gov. Abbott’s dangerously ambiguous proposal without first asking for the clarification necessary to ensure the proposal doesn’t contradict the Republican platform planks opposing additional gun regulation or an expansion of background checks. 

What a mess our GOP leaders have created. At a time when our liberty is under attack like never before, our leaders have abandoned the battlefield to negotiate the terms of surrender. Abbott just won a statewide election where he campaigned specifically against increased background checks. Yet now Patrick is pushing, and Abbott is leaving the door open to, broader restrictions on gun owners than the very Obama-era gun-control laws Abbott campaigned against. 

This is a sure way to demoralize the GOP base, destroy the Republican brand, and turn Texas blue. 

The grassroots must draw a clear line on this issue and withhold their support in the GOP primary from any candidate who does not come out publicly against red-flag laws, expansion of background checks to private firearms sales, imposing civil liability on sellers of firearms, or any additional regulation of the private sales of firearms whatsoever. 

When a GOP official is asked, “What are we doing to protect the public?” the correct answer is: “The same thing we did to successfully reduce the murder rate by half in the past 30 years: giving the public the means to defend themselves and their families by encouraging lawful gun ownership.” We should expect nothing less than the clarity Rep. Matt Schaefer provided in his rejection of new gun-control laws. 

Beto O’Rourke does not pose an imminent threat to our rights, but our statewide Republican elected officials do. If this misguided gun-control push doesn’t stop, it will not only set the stage for the very type of gun confiscation Beto supports, it will hand Texas—and possibly even the presidency—to Democrats in 2020.

This is a commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com.

Matt Rinaldi

Matt Rinaldi is the general counsel for a Texas healthcare company, director for a publicly traded hotel and hospitality company, and was a Texas state representative representing northwest Dallas County from 2015-19. He graduated with honors from both Boston University School of Law and James Madison University, with a degree in economics.