AURORA • Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, campaigning in Colorado, said he was open to expanding his proposal for a mandatory government buyback of AK-47s and AR-15s to include all semi-automatic weapons.
The former Texas congressman took questions Thursday night from a crowd of about 200 that included survivors of mass shootings and gun-rights advocates at an emotional town hall held within sight of the location of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
O'Rourke gained national prominence after finishing with 2.6 percentage points of Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate race in Texas — the closest Senate election in the Lone Star State in 40 years.
In Aurora, he told a survivor of the Columbine High School massacre that he would consider whether to call for confiscating more than the military-style rifles he has been proposing.
“This is a criteria that makes sense to me, if that weapon is designed to kill people and do so efficiently and effectively,” O’Rourke said after Evan Todd pointed out that the perpetrators of the Columbine shooting hadn’t used those weapons.
Later, O’Rourke gave Todd his phone number and said the two could discuss it further.
“We cannot fear the future. It belongs to the bold; it belongs to every single individual who will claim it,” O’Rourke said.
He said it was time to institute a “mandatory buyback of AK-47 and AR-15 weapons,” which he described as weapons “designed, engineered and sold to militaries all over the world because [they] efficiently and effectively kill people.
“I know that it is not convenient or easy to hear that we want to,” he said, acknowledging that some owners of those weapons were present in the crowd, including several who carried their firearms openly.
“The people in this country are well ahead of the people who purport to represent them, Republicans and Democrats alike.”
The gun buyback has been a centerpiece of O’Rourke’ flagging presidential campaign since he said at last week’s Democratic primary debate in Houston that “hell, yes,” he wants to enact a plan to require that owners of certain assault-style weapons sell them to the government.
O’Rourke came up with the proposal after an Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that left 22 dead and scores wounded. He formerly represented the west Texas city in Congress.
“When it comes to gun violence, we can decide together,” he said in Aurora, noting that there are an estimated 15 million AR-15 and AK-47-style weapons in the country. “We will buy back each and every single one,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
“This is wrong, and we do not have to accept it.”
A woman who said she drove to the town hall from Rifle, three hours away, told O’Rourke that when she heard him say at the debate that he was going to ban assault weapons, she wanted to reply: “Hell, no, you’re not.”
Noting that she had a handgun with her but had left her assault rifle at home, the woman asked, “How do you intend to legislate evil? Because it is the heart of the man, not the gun,” her words drowned out by shouts from the crowd.
“This doesn’t happen in any other country,” O’Rourke said, quieting the crowd. “Why would we allow this? You don’t need it to hunt.”
As some in the crowd shouted back, “Yes we do!” O’Rourke replied: “The logic of your argument is, why shouldn’t we allow you to have a bazooka or drive a tank down the street?”
A man who said he was a Vietnam veteran from El Paso said he agrees with O’Rourke because he’s seen the destructive power of the weapons O’Rourke wants to ban. A woman who said her parents were murdered in their home said she understands wanting guns for protection but, as a veteran, also understands their destructive capability so supports O’Rourke’s proposal.
Mary Anderson, an Aurora Democrat, said she came to hear O’Rourke’s talk about ways to reduce gun violence. She liked the mandatory assault-weapon buyback he has proposed. “That worked in Australia,” she said.
O’Rourke was introduced by state Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, whose son Alex was among the 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
“He has taken the conversation on gun violence to a new level,” Sullivan said. “He has a bold agenda that has us talking like we never have in the past, and his plans will take us to a place where we will no longer live in fear of going to the movies, places of worship, shopping for back-to-school items, and our children can feel safe in their classrooms.”
The Colorado spokesman for the Republican National Committee slammed O’Rourke’s “socialist agenda” in a statement issued before the Democrat had landed in the state.
“Whether it’s his call to confiscate guns or ban fossil fuels, Beto O’Rourke has repeatedly shown he is completely out-of-touch with Colorado voters,” said Kyle Kohli.