Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) called for a mandatory federal buyback of assault weapons in the aftermath of a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, that claimed 22 lives and injured dozens more.
In an impassioned speech delivered in El Paso on Thursday, O’Rourke — who left the campaign trail two weeks ago to be with the community — praised the strength and resilience he had witnessed.
He then turned to what he saw as the root causes of the attack, naming lackluster gun control legislation, the influence of the gun lobby and the dehumanizing rhetoric President Donald Trump has used to refer to immigrants throughout his presidency.
O’Rourke and others have blamed Trump for promoting the racist views held by the El Paso shooter, who admitted last week to targeting people of Mexican descent and reportedly penned a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto ahead of the attack. His manifesto featured a number of phrases the president has used before, including “the Hispanic invasion” and “send them back.”
“If at this moment we do not wake up to this threat, then we as a country will die in our sleep,” O’Rourke said of the dangers these combined influences present.
He called for stricter gun control and indicated that the recent mass shootings had pushed him firmly in favor of a federal buyback program.
“I see more clearly than I ever have — that not only do we need universal background checks; not only do we need red flag laws, that would stop somebody when they pose a danger to themselves or someone else; not only do we need to end the sale of assault weapons and weapons of war, that were designed for the battlefield and have no place in our communities,” he said. “We must as a country buy those weapons, take them off the streets altogether.”
O’Rourke, who has previously said he was “open” to such a measure but has stopped short of explicitly endorsing it, joins fellow Democratic candidates New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in calling for a mandatory federal buyback program. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has also indicated support for the measure.
In his speech, the former congressman highlighted the history of mass shootings across the country.
“As a country, we’ve accepted the murder of 6- and 7-year-old children where they sat at school. We’ve accepted high school students being hunted down in the halls of these institutions,” O’Rourke said. “It is time for us to be bold. To stand together. To stand up against those interests who would prevent us from saving the lives of our fellow Americans.”
When asked to clarify after his speech if he was calling for a mandatory buyback, O’Rourke confirmed that he was.
“I know that this is not politically easy,” he said. “It’s frankly why far too few people have proposed it. It’s frankly why I have not proposed it in the past.”
“Regardless of what it does to our prospects going forward, you’ve got to speak the truth and be clear about where the solutions are,” he continued. “So, yes, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
O’Rourke also announced he will be returning to the campaign trail, but he will not join his fellow candidates in Iowa, citing the “urgency” of the issues that face Americans across the country. He will instead head to Mississippi, where an ICE raid on undocumented workers last week resulted in 680 arrests.
“To those places where Donald Trump has been terrorizing and terrifying and demeaning our fellow Americans, that’s where you will find me and this campaign,” he said.