Beto O’Rourke does not want to take your AR-15. Or, at least, that’s what he’s saying now.
The Texas Democrat, who is currently running to unseat incumbent governor Greg Abbott (R.), claimed on Tuesday he doesn’t want to seize any guns. In fact, he positioned himself as a defender of gun rights.
“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” O’Rourke told supporters during a campaign stop in Tyler, Texas on Tuesday. “What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”
Of course, that’s a direct contradiction of what he said back in 2019. He was rather emphatic that “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” during a presidential primary debate.
The backtracking is blatant but what’s bizarre is the timing.
O’Rourke announced his candidacy in November. He stood by his confiscation call. A few weeks later, he doubled down on it.
“That AR-15, that AK-47 has one single solitary purpose. And that is killing people as effectively, as efficiently, in as great a number, in as little time as possible,” O’Rourke told CNN. “We saw that in Kenosha. We saw that in El Paso, Texas, where 23 people were murdered by someone with an Ak-47 just in a matter of minutes. This is crazy, and we should not come to expect this as a matter of course in America. And, the thing is, we don’t have to.”
So, it’s pretty odd to try and reverse course now rather than before starting his campaign. O’Rourke’s move to get ahead of the pack on gun confiscation in the 2020 presidential primary did not work. It was fairly clear from the beginning it wouldn’t work in Texas either.
It’s difficult to see the strategy behind the way this played out–if there was one at all.
Certainly, there was some polling that showed O’Rourke was significantly trailing Abbott on gun policy. Quinnipiac University found the incumbent had a 27 point lead on who would handle the gun issue better. That reaffirmed the idea O’Rourke’s support for confiscation was, indeed, hurting him in the race.
It also came out around the time O’Rourke stopped making news by doubling down on seizing ARs. He has focused his campaign on other issues like green energy and covid restrictions. Even his gun policy focus has shifted to attacking Abbott for signing permitless gun-carry into law.
Tuesday’s reversal came as the result of a question during a campaign stop. It wasn’t an announcement and it’s still not clear what exactly his new position on ARs actually is (I’ve emailed his campaign, but received no response). The off-the-cuff nature of the comments could explain why they were so blatantly contradictory.
But, ultimately, this was an issue everyone could have seen coming. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone this position would poll poorly in Texas. And O’Rourke’s campaign ought to have known that before even making the official campaign announcement.
Adam Serwer, a Texan and staff writer at The Atlantic, was among those who predicted all the way back in October he’d have to change positions on gun confiscation. He said the flip flop may not doom O’Rourke’s campaign, but it will be difficult to overcome.
“It’s a question of whether Texas voters believe his walk back,” Serwer said on The Weekly Reload Podcast. “Whether they prioritize other issues besides that. Maybe they don’t believe him but prefer him to Abbott anyway. Obviously, Texas is a state with a lot of gun owners and people who support gun rights. So, it’s going to be an issue for him.”
It was always going to be a hard sale for O’Rourke to walk back what was among his most famous declerations. It’s doubtful doubling down at the start of his latest campaign before ultimately trying to land the move will help.