They’re coming to take your guns away. That’s the line conservatives have long used as a scare tactic in the United States gun debate. (It’s the go-to hyperbole for the National Rifle Association.) Democrats have always contorted themselves to dodge this specific claim, afraid of legal challenges in the long term and, in the near term, alienating moderate voters who care about their Second Amendment rights. But former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas is no longer shying away from this charge.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during the third presidential debate in Houston tonight. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against a fellow American anymore.”
O’Rourke is a solidly second-tier candidate in the Democratic primary race: He has consistently won roughly 2 to 3 percent of voters surveyed in national polls. Nevertheless, he may have a distinctive role to play in the coming months. After his hometown of El Paso, Texas, was hit by a deadly mass shooting in a Walmart, the former congressman has pivoted his 2020 campaign to focus primarily on guns. His impassioned arguments for gun control, born from his lived experience of leaving the campaign trail to sit with the victims of gun violence and their families, may set the Democratic conversation around guns, not least because O’Rourke’s competitors seem eager to hand him the mic and listen.