Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday railed against Texans’ easy access to AR-style rifles like the one used in May to massacre 19 students and two of their teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex.
A heckler cackled.
O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee running to oust Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in November, initially ignored the laughter. He kept stumping, saying that the Uvalde shooter had used the rifle not to fight enemy soldiers off in the distance but “against kids” five feet away.
But then he stopped and pointed at the heckler: “It may be funny to you,” O’Rourke thundered, interjecting a swear word, “but it’s not funny to me.”
One video of the exchange went viral, racking up more than 3 million views by early Thursday, just hours after O’Rourke wrapped up the campaign stop in Mineral Wells — a town some 40 miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and 260 miles north of Uvalde. O’Rourke’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post late Wednesday for comment about the exchange.
Shortly after the event, O’Rourke tweeted that he considers nothing more serious “than getting justice for the families in Uvalde and stopping this from ever happening again.”
The town hall was part of what’s shaping up to be the most expensive campaign in Texas history, dwarfing the $125 million O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz spent in 2018 in the Democrat’s failed attempt to unseat the Republican incumbent, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday. O’Rourke and Abbott raised a combined $52.5 million between late February and June alone, with O’Rourke’s $27.6 million haul setting a state campaign fundraising record, the Texas Tribune reported last month.
Gun control has been a staple of O’Rourke’s platform to defeat Abbott, especially after the massacre in Uvalde. A day after the shooting, he interrupted Abbott during a news conference at Uvalde High School as the governor updated reporters, The Post reported at the time. As Abbott introduced Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), O’Rourke came up to the stage to declare that the governor and other high-level state officials had dithered for far too long, not taking action after previous mass shootings in Texas, including those at Santa Fe High School in 2018 and at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.
“The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing,” O’Rourke said. “You’re offering us nothing.”
Moments before O’Rourke interrupted him at the May 25 news conference, Abbott told reporters that tougher gun laws are “not a real solution” to preventing more mass shootings. Instead, a week later, he called on the state legislature to create special committees that would make recommendations about how to take “meaningful action” that might stop something like Uvalde from happening again. At the time, O’Rourke knocked the idea, imploring the governor to “do your job” by calling a special legislative session to specifically tackle the issue.
At Wednesday night’s town hall in Mineral Wells, O’Rourke promised supporters “common-sense” gun control if he’s elected governor. He mentioned raising the minimum age for buying an AR-style rifle from 18 to 21, implementing universal background checks in Texas and enacting a red-flag law, legislation that allows judges to order law enforcement to seize gun owners’ firearms if convinced that they pose a danger to themselves or others.
O’Rourke ended his pitch by saying that “Democrats and Republicans, gun owners and non-gun owners” — maybe even himself and the heckler — might still find common ground on gun restrictions.
“You either accept that we are inherently evil and violent and deadly and love to kill each other and slaughter kids where they sit,” O’Rourke said, “or that there is something that you and I can do together regardless of the differences between us.”