What Beto O'Rourke Said About Guns That Could Hurt His Bid for Texas Governor

Democrat Beto O'Rourke announced that he was running for Texas governor Monday morning. But his past comments on gun control could potentially harm his bid in the traditionally Republican-leaning state.

During O'Rourke's 2020 presidential campaign, he backed gun control measures including a ban on assault rifles and universal background checks. O'Rourke, who previously served as a member of Congress in an El Paso area district, may face heightened criticism from some Texans over the policies he backed during the campaign.

During a presidential debate in September 2019, O'Rourke was pressed on whether or not he supported mandatory buybacks of assault weapons, to which he responded: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. You will not be able to use it against our fellow Americans any more."

He said he supported buybacks "if it's a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield."

In an October 2019 interview on MSNBC, O'Rourke doubled down on his policy, saying he supports law enforcement visiting people who own assault weapons to ensure they are bought back.

"In that case, I think that there would be a visit by law enforcement to recover that firearm and to make sure that it is purchased, bought back, so that it cannot be potentially used against somebody else," O'Rourke told the hosts of Morning Joe.

In a separate debate, however, he dismissed the idea of going "door to door" as part of the program, noting that method is not used "to do anything in this country to enforce the law."

O'Rourke focused his campaign on gun control after 23 people were killed in a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso in 2019.

Gun control advocates praised his policies, but some political experts have raised concern that his hard-line approach to gun control could be a setback in Texas—even as it trends more Democratic.

O'Rourke told The Texas Tribune that he will not back down from his position on guns during his gubernatorial run.

"Most of us understand the responsibility that comes with owning a firearm, and we will vigorously protect that Second Amendment right and also protect the lives of those around us," he told the Tribune. "But I think most of us also understand that we should not have military-style weapons used against our fellow Texans. We have four of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history right here in Texas that took place over the last five years."

Gun control may become a key issue during the governor's election, as incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a controversial law that allows people to carry a handgun without a license—meaning they are able to evade any form of background checks or training.

Many Democrats consider O'Rourke to be a strong candidate for governor following a closer-than-expected Senate run in 2018, when he lost to Republican Ted Cruz by only 2.6 points in a state long considered a Republican stronghold.

Neither President Joe Biden nor M.J. Hegar, the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2020, were able to match his performance two years later. Biden lost the state by about 5.6 points.

A Rice University poll released November 1 found Abbott leading O'Rourke by only a single point among registered voters and people who voted in the 2020 election.

Beto O'Rourke
Beto O’Rourke has backed gun control measures including a ban on assault rifles and universal background checks. Above, O'Rourke announced his campaign for governor of Texas on Monday. Rick Kern/Getty Images for MoveOn