Beto O'Rourke has a message to those warning that his mandatory gun buyback proposal might spark civil unrest: you're part of the problem.
The former Texas congressman, whose presidential campaign has been re-animated by his often visceral responses to two mass shootings in Texas, said he was disheartened by commentary from, among others, Meghan McCain, warning that forcing Americans to sell their assault rifles would prompt violence.
“I just I think that kind of language and rhetoric is not helpful,” the former congressman told The Daily Beast prior to joining a Wednesday marathon climate town hall on CNN. “It becomes self-fulfilling; you have people on TV who are almost giving you permission to be violent and saying, ‘You know this is this is going to happen.’”
O’Rourke brought up McCain’s name unprompted after “The View” host had said, earlier this week, that an attempt by the government to compel AR-15 owners to sell back their weapons would prompt “a lot of violence.”
“When someone says, “If you do this, then this will happen,” O’Rourke said, “almost as though that’s a natural response or maybe even something that should happen or deserves to happen. When I think the response should be, ‘We’re doing nothing now and we’re seeing people slaughtered in their schools, at work, at a Walmart, in a synagogue, in a church, at a concert. There is violence right now and it is horrifying and it is terrifying and it is terrorizing.’.... We should be worried about that kind of violence right now.”
McCain responded Thursday on Twitter by saying: “Beto is the only man in all of Texas who would revise ‘Come and Take It’ to ‘Please, Come and Take It.’”
O’Rourke’s comments came after a tour of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday, where he met with immigrants and asylum seekers participating in the congregation’s legal clinic which assists in the completion of asylum applications. After touring the synagogue, O’Rourke spoke exclusively with The Daily Beast about his gun control plans, during which he urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to call Congress back into session to vote on gun control legislation.
“If the urgency that people feel on this issue is not reflected in the leadership that they see in this country, then they begin to give up hope,” he said. “I think that can lead to more of the cynicism, can force people to give up hope, stop them from having faith in our ability to actually get something done and you know when you lose that faith, when you lose that hope and when you lose that drive, then you’re no longer working towards that solution. I think that’s a dangerous place for the country to be.”
Since returning to the campaign trail, O’Rourke has made an effort to go to traditionally redder parts of the country, including a gun show in Arkansas and the most Trump-friendly part of Virginia. The approach has mirrored his somewhat improvisational Texas Senate run that took him to Republican territory throughout the Lone Star state. He maintains that in these face-to-face conversations, there is more openness to the issues he’s discussing than what many in conservative media say. That includes things like a mandatory buyback program, which was implemented in Australia following that country’s worst mass shooting and has resulted in a dramatic drop of gun-related deaths there.
“I think in a mandatory buyback, the vast majority of people will follow the law,” O’Rourke said. “Not everyone will agree with it, not everyone will like it. But I think that ultimately, they’ll follow the law. And I think many will see this in the national interest. I listen to gun owners and non-gun owners alike who just who say that this current level of bloodshed and violent death in this country is unacceptable. Worries them, it worries their kids and they want to do something about it. And I can’t escape the conclusion that even universal background checks and red flag laws and ending the sale of weapons of war would not be enough to significantly change the outcome.”
O’Rourke had not specifically built his presidential campaign around a push for national gun policy. The issue, instead, found him after his home city of El Paso witnessed a deadly mass shooting earlier this month. But the congressman also is maintaining his focus on other policies, as was evident by his decision to meet with asylum seekers before jetting off to the CNN climate town hall.
Asked which of these issues, among the many others, he would prioritize first in the Oval Office, the Texas Democrat rejected the premise of the question and said it was vital to make progress on everything as soon as possible; though he specifically said “it’s hard for me to think of a more important issue,” than climate change.
“It is existential,” O’Rourke told The Daily Beast. “If we cannot get this right—I think the trajectory now is by 2100, we will have warmed another four or four-and-a-half degrees Celsius—my youngest son will be 88 years old and he’ll be fucked.”
This story has been updated to include McCain’s response.