Beto O’Rourke says his focus now is on a gun policy that has a chance, or bipartisan support.
AUSTIN — Democrat Beto O’Rourke acknowledged that his “hell, yes” promise to take offensive military weapons away from law-abiding citizens is a non-starter for many Texas voters as his tough challenge to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott heads in the last six weeks ahead of the November 8 election.
In an interview Saturday as part of a wide-ranging political symposium hosted by the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke said to a packed house at a downtown Austin theater that he still believes that no one should be under the age of 21 Guns like the AR-15, modeled after the US military’s M-16 or an AK-47, the battlefield weapon of the old Soviet Union.
But an outright ban on private property in Texas is unlikely to ever see widespread acceptance, O’Rourke said.
“The most important thing is to get something done and not let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” O’Rourke told interviewer Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker. “There are many things we will argue about, but on this issue of prioritizing the lives of our children, I have searched for common ground and found that Republicans, non-gun owners, Democrats and gun owners alike agree with raising the age of buying on a red flag law so we can intervene before it’s too late.”
The question came during an hour-long discussion of O’Rourke’s campaign against Abbott, where polls show he is about 5 to 9 percentage points behind. After the May 24 massacre at Uvalde’s Robb Primary School, in which an 18-year-old AR-15-armed gunman shot dead 19 children and two teachers, the issue of assault rifle ownership was high on the agenda.
Even before that, O’Rourke called for raising the age for legal purchase of such a rifle from 18 to 21. And before the shooting, Abbott rarely missed an opportunity to remind voters of O’Rourke’s promises during his brief presidential run of the 2020 cycle , the “Damn yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
Abbott is not appearing at the news organization’s symposium, commonly referred to as “Tribfest.”
O’Rourke often boasts that he’s been among the few Democrats since Republicans cemented their ban on Texas politics a generation ago to aggressively court votes in conservative rural and suburban corners of the state, where many believe Gun ownership is a sacred right.
However, he said that while the government’s seizure alienates millions of Texans, agreement on issues such as requiring buyers to have training and restricting the ability of people who threaten violence or have been identified as mentally unstable is legally possible to buy weapons.
“In a universal background check that simply says if you’re buying a gun in Texas, we’re ok with that,” O’Rourke said. “We just want to make sure you don’t pose a threat to yourself or others. These three steps will save lives, allow us to defend the Second Amendment, while better protecting the lives of those in our communities.”
O’Rourke’s appearance followed a separate interview by Republican US Senator Ted Cruz, whom the El Paso Democrat challenged in 2018, which also focused on gun ownership.
Cruz staunchly defended law-abiding Texans’ right to own the guns that O’Rourke wanted to restrict, and was berated by some in the audience who disagreed with his stance. Cruz pushed back, though some tried to shout him down and others in the audience cheered his effort.
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“You can clap for that, except for the small problem that it doesn’t work,” he said.
When asked by Washington Examiner senior correspondent David Drucker what measures he would support to address the epidemic of mass shootings, Cruz backed legislation he was proposing that would double the number of police officers in schools, leading to one listener prompted to shout: “It did not work in Uvalde!”
Cruz responded by urging the audience to engage in “reasonable conversation” rather than shouting, and pointed to legislation he supports that would fund thousands of new mental health counselor positions in schools.
“When this madman came to school in Uvalde, there were no police officers on campus. He got in through an open back door, he got into the classroom and he murdered kids before the police got there,” Cruz said.
“Listen, if you have a solution to stopping the deranged killer, I’d love to hear it,” Cruz said. “My solution is to throw them in jail, the repeat offenders, the fugitives, the mentally ill stop them before they commit these crimes. There are some we don’t know about beforehand, and the best step to stop them is to have armed officers on campus before they kill our children.”
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