Editorial: O’Rourke gives voice to the call for gun safety

Gun Rights

SAN ANTONIO — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott looked down when Beto O’Rourke confronted him about guns during a press conference the day after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Abbott had just spoken about how “evil swept across Uvalde” and “it could have been worse,” and O’Rourke stood up and said, “the time for you two to stop this was after Santa Fe …” in reference to the 2018 high school mass shooting outside Houston.

The situation devolved into yelling as police ushered O’Rourke from the auditorium. On the way out, he turned and said, “This is on you (Abbott) until you choose to do something different.” Some saw O’Rourke giving voice to national frustration and despair over the murders of 19 children and two teachers. Others saw someone who took the spotlight away from tragedy.

The moment not only illustrated the chasm between Abbott, a Republican, and O’Rourke, his Democratic challenger, on this issue, it also exemplified America’s tense relationship with the Second Amendment. Uvalde brought guns to the forefront in the governor’s race, and it should remain there as voters cast their ballots.

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In O’Rourke, we see a candidate who has given voice to commonsense reforms most Texans support to reduce gun violence. In Abbott, we see a governor who has pushed this issue to the extreme. On the question of gun safety, O’Rourke gets the decisive edge.

Multiple polls show most Texans want stronger gun safety laws. Polling from the Texas Politics Project in August, for example, found 54 percent of respondents believe gun laws should be made more strict, as opposed to 18 percent of respondents who said they should be less strict. Additional statewide and national polling has shown strong support for universal background checks, red flag laws and raising the purchase age for assault-style weapons from 18 to 21.

And yet Abbott has focused on school safety and mental health. Important topics, but incomplete without gun safety reforms; and painfully hollow as Texas ranks last in mental health care access, according to Mental Health America.

With an “A+” grade and title of “ most pro-gun governor ” from the National Rifle Association, Abbott has expanded gun rights. As Texas attorney general, he helped strike down handgun bans, and as governor he ushered in permitless carry.

Polling has shown a majority of Texans disapprove of the law. Police officials across Texas and the nation opposed the proposal, and research shows gun deaths increase with the number of firearms on the street.

Abbott has signed more than two dozen bills supporting gun rights and consistently opposes firearm, magazine and ammunition bans.

Mass shootings draw our attention, but gun violence takes many other forms: suicides, domestic violence, accidental shootings, disputes. Policies should be broad. Gun violence should be framed as a public health crisis.

Texas has an “F” rating and is ranked 33rd in the nation for gun safety according to the Giffords Law Center. With the 26th highest gun death rate in the country, the state saw roughly 14 gun deaths for every 100,000 citizens in 2021— 4 percent higher than the national average.

Following Uvalde, Abbott refused calls for a special session and falsely claimed raising the purchase age of long guns from 18 to 21 would be unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t taken a stand on age restrictions for any type of weapon. And we fail to see the controversy of raising the purchase age.

During his run for president in 2019, O’Rourke gave voice to the worst fears of gun rights advocates when he said, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.”

That’s a nonstarter for most people, but this is not the view O’Rourke has espoused this campaign.

O’Rourke made this comment in the aftermath of the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso in which 23 people were murdered and 23 others injured. O’Rourke’s comments in the aftermath of Uvalde have been equally passionate, but measured and reflective of popular policies.

For example, O’Rourke told us he still believes people don’t need AR-15s or AK-47s, but he didn’t speak of taking them.

“What those families in Uvalde are owed, and what our fellow Texans — especially our kids — need is action,” he told us. “And we can stand on principle, hold our breath and hope that we get it done, or we can choose to find the common ground.”

O’Rourke then mentioned his support for raising the purchase age of long guns to 21, increasing background checks and enacting red flag laws.

“Everyone recognizes that the status quo isn’t working. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for kids and teenagers,” O’Rourke said. “It’s not just Uvalde, El Paso, Midland-Odessa, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe High School. It is every single day in San Antonio, in El Paso, in Dallas.”

Only one candidate in this race is championing gun safety policies to change this.

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