AUSTIN — In front of hundreds of supporters at a Dallas town hall Wednesday evening, Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke said any gun regulation must start where there is consensus.
In the wake of the Uvalde shooting last week, Democratic nominee O’Rourke vowed that if elected he would work with Republican lawmakers to establish common areas of agreement when it comes to addressing gun violence in the state.
"You cannot address gun violence without addressing guns,” O’Rourke said.
But some leading Republicans and gun advocates made it clear they do not agree with some of what O’Rourke advocates, including red flag laws and banning of military-style semi-automatic weapons, and more.
O’Rourke laid out several ways he would address gun violence, including the commonly proposed options of universal background checks and red flag laws that would allow a family member, a school official and others to use judicial means to remove a gun from someone who's demonstrated that they're a threat to themselves or others. O’Rourke said that in traveling the state of Texas, he has found that most people agree on the need for some form of these laws.
He added that he would also like to end sales of AR-15 and AK-47-style rifles, which have been used in some of the most horrific mass shootings in the country’s history.
“We are selling weapons of war to civilians, and then are surprised when those weapons are used to kill people because that's exactly what they were designed to do,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t think we should have AR-15s and AK-47s in our communities.”
Some attendees at the town hall also said they were in favor of raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21 - currently it is 18 in Texas - and O’Rourke agreed. Others pressed the candidate on how he would address everyday gun violence that does not make the evening news. He said he was in favor of partnering with local communities to find solutions as well as establishing voluntary buyback programs.
O’Rourke also championed safe storage laws that would regulate how guns are stored after a recommendation from Rhonda Hart, a gun reform advocate whose daughter was killed in the Santa Fe High School shooting near Houston in 2018.
“If you have kids in the house, if you have someone who is unstable and may harm themselves or harm somebody else, all this law would require is that you keep that firearm secure,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke, who often drew on personal experiences, said a driving force for making change is his own three children and the inevitable question they will ask: what did you do about it?
“Was it politically inconvenient to say the truth? Was it too hard to bring people together to find the common ground and start solving some of these problems before another kid died?” He said. “The choice that we make right now, as a state leader (and) each of us individually, is going to define us and potentially haunt us for the rest of our lives.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term come November, has essentially closed the door on additional gun regulation, instead focusing on the importance of addressing mental health concerns.
On Wednesday, he directed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to convene legislative committees on school safety to prevent future school shootings. But committees do not lead to immediate legislative outcomes.
Former Republican state representative and state house speaker Dennis Bonnen slammed O’Rourke’s remarks, accusing him of “playing politics,” in a Tweet.
“(O’Rourke) insists on not only raising money off the horrendous acts, but also holding a political tour drumming up support for his flagging campaign,” Bonnen tweeted. “Beto's naked politics in the wake of the tragedies in Uvalde are despicable.”
Andi Turner, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, also pushed back on the proposed solutions, stating that red flag laws could be potentially misused as retaliation against law-abiding citizens who own guns, skirting due process. Background checks also will not stop people who want to get guns from doing so through illegal channels.
And if a person is able to vote and join the military at age 18, why should their right to own guns be treated differently? she asked.
While Turner said she would be willing to listen to and discuss solutions, any regulation that is not in line with the Second Amendment of the Constitution will fall out of favor with her.
“Enforce the laws we've got,” Turner said. “If we would fully enforce the laws we have, I believe this would be a better situation.”
Turner added that while discussions are heated following the Uvalde tragedy, she believes they are premature as facts from the event are still unfolding.
“I understand the desire to do something, but at this point, we don't know what happened.” she said, “so coming up with solutions without having the facts is political rhetoric.”