The Slatest

Beto O’Rourke Gave the Debate’s Boldest Answer About Gun Control

Beto O'Rourke raises his hand as he speaks during the debate.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke at the debate Thursday in Houston. Win McNamee/Getty Images

During the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday, candidates struggled to differentiate their responses to a question about gun control. The candidates all spoke about the urgency of stemming the epidemic of mass shootings and gun violence in the country. But one candidate, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, stood out for his particularly uncompromising position on the topic.

Asked if he was proposing the idea of taking away assault-style weapons, O’Rourke did not hesitate. “Hell yes,” he said. “We’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against a fellow American anymore.”

It’s a bold stance, but not the first time O’Rourke has rejected the idea that he needed to comfort the owners of certain guns. In late August, O’Rourke was asked by a reporter in Virginia what he would say to gun owners who feared he the government was going to take away their guns.

“So I want to be really clear that that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” O’Rourke answered. “Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s will have to sell them to the government.”

Traditionally, candidates have shied away from the idea of mandatory gun buybacks. On Thursday, some of his fellow candidates discussed the option of voluntary buybacks. But O’Rourke’s candidacy has leaned into the cause in recent weeks, carried by the heartbreak from the August shooting in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, Texas, that left 22 people dead. O’Rourke, as several candidates noted Thursday night (Kamala Harris: “Beto, God love you for standing to courageously in the midst of that tragedy”), gave a strong and emotional speech during the aftermath of the shooting. He responded with raw anger, claiming to have been transformed by the incident. Since then, he has apparently counted on that anger to make him stand out. But given that the more prominent candidates see no danger in praising the former congressman for his performance, it seems few other serious players think it will do the trick.