When the Democratic presidential debate turned to gun control, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke became emotional as he told of meeting a woman who watched her daughter bleed to death after a mass shooting. There were too many victims, he said, and not enough ambulances after the attack in Odessa, Texas.
He talked of the devastation wrought by high-velocity rifle rounds that cause massive internal injuries when they smash into their human targets, including victims in the attacks in Odessa and in his hometown of El Paso.
Those weapons should not just be banned from sale but taken away from their owners, he told the audience in Houston.
“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.
Later that night, it brought an apparent threat.
“My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” Briscoe Cain, a GOP Texas state lawmaker wrote on Twitter, using the candidate’s given first and middle names.
O’Rourke responded on Twitter, “This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn’t own an AR-15 — and neither should anyone else.”
Until recently, there had not been much daylight among the Democratic presidential candidates on gun control. All 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, 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.
O’Rourke has become much more blunt in his rhetoric since the massacre in his hometown, where, police say, a gunman espousing white-nationalist ideology killed 22 people inside a Walmart, many of them Latinos.
On the debate stage, O’Rourke was praised by 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 sustained cheer from the crowd.