Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke was the sixth candidate to take the stage Wednesday during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas, Nevada. The forum, presented by Giffords, March For Our Lives, and MSNBC, hosts nine major Democratic candidates to discuss what each presidential hopeful plans to do to reduce the epidemic of gun violence.
(Note: Sen. Bernie Sanders was scheduled to participate but is unable to, due to health issues.)
Rep, O’Rourke’s appearance followed former Vice President Joe Biden’s; the former congressman was greeted by a chorus of cheers.
Moderator Craig Melvin noted that O’Rourke barely made it to the forum and thanked him for his time before diving into his response to the Aug. 3 El Paso shooting, where O’Rourke stated that “we’re coming for your guns.” Reading tweets from GOP lawmakers who derided that statement, Melvin asked O’Rourke if he regretted that statement. O’Rourke emphatically declined to take his words back, before immediately sharing the stories of the carnage and suffering he saw while meeting with El Paso victims. He also noted that if laws are created to deem assault weapons illegal moving forward, then it’s wrong to not do buybacks.
Next, O’Rourke called out Mayor Pete Buttigieg by name for his more moderate stance on buybacks, calling that hesitation “fear.”
Melvin asked him how legislation like mandatory buybacks can be enforced. O’Rourke, mentioning the second anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre, derided AR-15s as weapons of war before sharing a story from a recent trip to Dayton, Ohio, where he claimed AR-15 owners came up to him and voiced agreement with buyback programs. He then name-dropped gun safety activists across the nation who he’s met and spoke with, and how they warned him he’d “stepped in it,” and questioned whether or not he’d really see his promises through. To cheers, O’Rourke promised that he is all-in.
Melvin again brought it back to more moderate Democrats and their disagreement with his aggressive policy proposals. After unleashing a stream of vitriol against the NRA, O’Rourke insisted that he’s not listening to anyone but the American people.
Melvin then shifted to non-mass shooting gun violence, specifically domestic violence. Like other candidates before him, O’Rourke vowed to close the ‘boyfriend’ loophole to help reduce domestic violence involving guns. O’Rourke then cited a Muslim gun safety group he worked with in Chicago, along with Purpose Over Pain, and the importance of investing in community-led prevention programs. He quickly jumped to gun violence at the hands of law enforcement. “No one should fear law enforcement or police in this country.”
He then became the first candidate of the day to mention the murder verdict in the Botham Jean case, who was shot by an off-duty Dallas police officer.
Melvin then asked who O’Rourke would exclude from gun ownership, and he homed in on the “boyfriend” loophole, as well as people who are dangers to themselves and others. He noted that he believes in the Second Amendment, but that the rights it offers don’t overrule Americans’ right to live. He also reminded the crowd that the Second Amendment was written when it took three minutes to load a musket; O’Rourke then noted the carnage that today’s AR-15 can cause in three minutes.
Again, O’Rourke recognized activist groups fighting for “common sense” gun reform above all, noting that even Antonin Scalia understood such approaches were necessary.
Audience questions were next. Fatimah Loren Muhammad, from the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, had a sweet moment with O’Rourke: When her microphone didn’t work, he hopped off the stage and handed his own to her. Her question? How will essential violence-reduction programs be funded in an O’Rourke presidency? O’Rourke ran with the need for such programs, listing various components. He did not explain how he’d fund it, but it was clear that he supports such programming.
Next, a question from Parkland’s Emma Gonzalez, who thanked him for endorsing the group’s Peace Plan. She asked how he would implement it, noting that his efforts must not just focus on mass shootings. O’Rourke shared his gratitude for the group, who sent a delegation to El Paso to meet with the victims. Calling the Peace Plan “bold,” he demanded the need for just one person who is determined to embrace and implement that plan. O’Rourke vowed to let the March For Our Lives leaders lead the way.
O’Rourke explained this choice, noting the young people who fought and died at Normandy along with those who led the lunch counter protests, and called young people “the moral compass” that would move the country.
Melvin asked if O’Rourke was stealing his policy from Sen. Cory Booker, but O’Rourke didn’t take the bait. Instead he thanked Booker for being a leader, and embracing the March For Our Lives leadership as well. He wrapped up by saying he was grateful for him, and looks forward to working with him and activists moving forward.
And with that, Rep, O’Rourke was done. Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is up next.
A native of Texas—a state earning an “F” on the Giffords Gun Safety Scorecard—O’Rourke is a gun owner with a longstanding NRA “F” rating of which he’s quite proud. O’Rourke campaigned on gun safety during his 2018 Senate run, but after August’s mass shooting at a Walmart in his native El Paso, the 47-year-old candidate dramatically escalated his war on gun violence, making headlines for calling out Donald Trump for his enabling of white supremacy, dropping everything to visit with victims’ families and the El Paso community writ large. His campaign became laser-focused on gun safety, with aggressive promise to require surrender of AR-15s and AR-47s suddenly distinguishing him from the crowded Democratic field.
O’Rourke’s plan includes signing the No PAC Act into law, which would, in theory, block the NRA from controlling politicians by banning political donations from such group. Beyond the mandatory buybacks, O’Rourke’s proposal aligns with most of the Democratic candidates, and Elizabeth Warren’s in particular, pushing for universal background checks, closing of the “boyfriend” loophole, stockpiling prevention, and “red flag” laws, among other facets.
Catch all of our recaps of Wednesday’s 2020 Gun Safety Forum!
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
California Sen. Kamala Harris