There had not been much daylight between Democratic presidential candidates in the Democratic presidential field on gun control. Candidates generally supported liberal policies such as an assault weapons ban and red flag laws that would allow officials to take guns away from high-risk owners.
But after the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke has pressed an even tougher line: mandatory gun buybacks for the types of semiautomatic rifles often used in deadly attacks. In other words, an unapologetic government confiscation program, which would have been taboo for a Democratic presidential candidate a generation ago.
On the debate stage, O’Rourke said he met a woman who watched her daughter bleed to death after the shooting in Odessa because there were too many victims and not enough ambulances. He blamed the devastation wrought by high-velocity rifle rounds that, compared to handguns, cause much more massive internal injuries when they smash into their human targets. And therefore, O’Rourke argued, such weapons should not just be banned from sale, but taken away from their owners.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said, bringing one of the biggest applause lines of the night so far.
O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, has become much more blunt in his rhetoric since the massacre in his hometown, where, police say, a gunman espousing white nationalist ideology killed more than 20 people inside a Walmart, many of them Latinos.
On the debate stage, he drew praise from the other candidates for his passion, including from former Vice President Joe Biden, who cautioned that new gun control laws would require the assent of Congress.
“The way he handled what happened in his hometown is meaningful,” Biden said, drawing a loud and sustain cheer from the crowd.