Beto O’Rourke stands by mandatory buybacks for AR-15s, assault weapons as he seeks Texas governorship

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, D., said he is not backing off his controversial call to require buybacks of assault weapons as he mounts his latest campaign.

O’Rourke, who famously said “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” during a Democratic presidential primary debate in 2019, will continue to stake out the aggressive gun control stance as he seeks to become the first Democratic governor of Texas since Ann Richards. He announced his campaign launch on Monday, making his third major candidacy in as many election cycles.

“Most of us understand the responsibility that comes with owning a firearm, and we will vigorously protect that Second Amendment right and also protect the lives of those around us,” he told The Texas Tribune, calling them weapons designed for the battlefield. “But I think most of us also understand that we should not have military-style weapons used against our fellow Texans. We have four of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history right here in Texas that took place over the last five years.”

FILE PHOTO: Former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visit a Whataburger after O'Rourke endorsed Biden's campaign for president in Dallas, Texas, U.S., March 2, 2020.

FILE PHOTO: Former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visit a Whataburger after O’Rourke endorsed Biden’s campaign for president in Dallas, Texas, U.S., March 2, 2020.
(REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo)

This will be the first time O’Rourke takes that stance directly to Texas voters as he hopes to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott R., an avid Second Amendment supporter. In 2018, when he burst onto the national scene with his challenge of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O’Rourke opposed gun confiscation.

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“If you own that gun, keep that gun. Nobody wants to take it away from you, at least I don’t want to do that,” he said in 2018 on a radio show. “To be clear … if you purchased that AR-15, if you own it, keep it. Continue to use it responsibly.”

O’Rourke continued to hold that stance until the fall of 2019, following the mass shooting in El Paso by a gunman motivated to kill Latinos. He suspended his campaign after the shooting – which took place in the district he represented in the House of Representatives – and relaunched it around the gun control issue, but he dropped out in October. 

A member of the "Patriots", Will (no last name given), holding his AR-15 rifle, looks across the Rio Grande river on the U.S. - Mexico border as he patrols at sunset outside Brownsville, Texas September 2, 2014. Will is a 25-year-old construction worker from Indiana. The "Patriots" are a heavily armed group who patrol the U.S. border with Mexico, trying to deter immigrants from crossing the border illegally. Photo taken September 2, 2014.

A member of the “Patriots”, Will (no last name given), holding his AR-15 rifle, looks across the Rio Grande river on the U.S. – Mexico border as he patrols at sunset outside Brownsville, Texas September 2, 2014. Will is a 25-year-old construction worker from Indiana. The “Patriots” are a heavily armed group who patrol the U.S. border with Mexico, trying to deter immigrants from crossing the border illegally. Photo taken September 2, 2014.
(REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION))

Progressives praised O’Rourke for maintaining his stance, but other observers thought his left-wing gun stance was likely to hamper him in Texas.

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“Welp,” The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski commented.

O’Rourke has since focused on voting issues in Texas and trying to flip the state to Democratic control. The GOP remains in power in Texas, although former President Donald Trump’s victory there over Joe Biden in 2020 was the narrowest by a Republican since 1996.

Former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks during a protest against Texas legislators who are advancing a slew of new voting restrictions in Austin, Texas, U.S., May 8, 2021.

Former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks during a protest against Texas legislators who are advancing a slew of new voting restrictions in Austin, Texas, U.S., May 8, 2021.
(REUTERS/Mikala Compton)

O’Rourke faces a number of headwinds. Now a known entity in Texas after his last two high-profile campaigns, his approval is underwater in Texas, and President Biden is also highly unpopular in the state. The 2022 midterms are shaping up to be difficult for Democrats if Biden can’t right his political ship.

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It’s unclear how O’Rourke’s stance on guns will play in the current political environment. The Texas Tribune pointed to its 2019 poll showing more support for an assault weapons buyback than opposition to the proposal, but Texas has the most gun owners in the nation and they are a motivated voting bloc. Abbott, who is seeking a third term, has already moved to define his possible general election opponent as a gun-grabber.

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