Following the massacre of 19 elementary school students and two teachers by an 18-year-old man with an AR-15-style rifle in Uvalde, Texas, Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who is campaigning for governor, briefly seized the national political spotlight to implore voters that it is time to do more to protect Americans from gun violence.
O’Rourke, who wants to unseat Republican Greg Abbott, crashed a news conference last week, in a scene widely viewed online shouting at his opponent that the murders of the schoolchildren were “predictable” and “You are doing nothing!”
O’Rourke is betting that the tragedy will refocus the issues to gun violence and reset his long-shot campaign in the United States’s largest Republican state.
Abbott has twice previously won elections by landslides and has begun the campaign with $55m in the bank – far more than O’Rourke. And gun culture looms larger in Texas than perhaps anywhere else in the country.
“While it might not be the easy or politically safe thing to say, I don’t believe any civilian should own an AR-15 or AK-47,” O’Rouke says on his official website.
Though it may be too early to tell what will happen in the Texas governor’s race in November, the shooting has already affected both parties.
Abbott cancelled his planned visit to the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) meeting which began last Friday to remain in Uvalde. Also skipping the three-day event was Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn, who is among those negotiating with Democratic colleagues on strengthening background checks and “red flag” laws allowing authorities to remove firearms from those determined to be a danger to themselves or others.
“I think it felt cathartic for a lot of people that maybe might have been on the fence,” said Abel Prado, executive director of the Democratic advocacy group Cambio Texas, said of O’Rourke’s outburst. “It gives you, ‘At least somebody’s trying to stand up and do something, or at least say something.’”
O’Rourke spent two nights in Uvalde after the shooting, then headed to Houston for a rally against gun violence outside Friday’s meeting of the NRA.
“To those men and women in positions of power who care more about your power than using that power to save the lives of those that you are supposed to serve … we will defeat you and we will overcome you,” O’Rourke told protesters who chanted his name and the phrase, “Vote them out!”.