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Beto O’Rourke’s Gun Plan: Take AR-15s

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[Read: Beto O’Rourke has a new case to make to voters]

Guns came up early in tonight’s debate, in part because the issue has been on people’s minds lately: The early-August El Paso shooting devastated the largely Hispanic Catholic community on the border, while twin shootings in Midland and Odessa left seven people dead and at least 21 injured just a couple of weeks ago. Tonight, as candidates began discussing their plans to end America’s seemingly endless spree of mass shootings, something remarkable happened: Again and again, they turned to O’Rourke, commending him on how he has handled the aftermath of the latest violence in his home state.

The moderator then turned to O’Rourke. In a question about O’Rourke’s proposed gun-buyback program, the moderator spoke directly to conservatives’ central fear: that gun-reform proposals are really just an excuse for the government to get rid of Americans’ guns. So, O’Rourke was asked, “Are you proposing taking away their guns?”

The former congressman was unapologetic. “I am,” he said, “if it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield.” And there may be room for compromise, he said: Attendees at a recent gun show he visited in Conway, Arkansas, were open to his proposals to limit the distribution of weapons such as AR-15s. “Let’s do the right thing,” he said, and “bring everyone in America into the conversation—Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, and non-gun-owners alike.”

According to public-opinion polling, O’Rourke is right, at least to an extent: Strong majorities of Americans from both parties, including those who own guns and those who don’t, agree on policies like implementing basic background checks, although there’s less consensus on banning “assault-style weapons” and high-capacity magazines. So far in this Democratic primary race, as in his failed bid to become a U.S. senator in 2018, O’Rourke has not been a consensus-focused candidate; he has tried to appeal to the left.

O’Rourke’s experience in El Paso may have permanently shifted his presidential bid, and perhaps his political career. When he speaks about this issue, he appears to speak from the heart. The Democratic presidential candidates agree that they have to do something about how guns are bought and sold in America. In the end, O’Rourke may not make it to the White House, but on this issue, he may lead the way.

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