Hell no, he’s not going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.
That’s one of the key takeaways from Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s failed campaign to unseat Republican incumbent governor Greg Abbott. Multiple outlets called the race for Abbott shortly after polls closed in the state, though the margin of victory will not be determined for a while. Whatever the final margin, it will be O’Rourke’s third consecutive loss in a high-profile race.
The defeat could spell trouble for O’Rourke’s future political prospects, but it may be even more detrimental to his strategy of embracing gun confiscation. How close O’Rourke comes to Abbott’s final tally will likely determine how radioactive that stance will become in the aftermath of the race. If he loses by double digits, as some closing polls had predicted, other Democrats could shy away from more aggressive gun-control policies–at least in potentially competitive races.
The race was not exclusively about gun policy. However, it did feature more prominently than in many other races. And the contrast between O’Rourke and Abbott on guns has made it one of the few clear bellwethers on the issue.
O’Rourke made gun control one of the centerpieces of his campaign. His closing TV ad included an attack on Abbott over the Uvalde school shooting. And he featured that message in his social media messaging.
“23 weeks since 21 loved ones were massacred in their classrooms, and Greg Abbott hasn’t changed a single thing to make it any less likely that any other child will meet the same fate,” he tweeted last week. “His inaction is disqualifying. Keeping our kid’s safe demands that we vote him out.”
But O’Rourke flip-flopped on his gun message at times. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, he unsuccessfully attempted to improve his flagging poll numbers by calling for the confiscation of some of the most popular firearms in America.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during the September 2019 debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
After launching his campaign for Texas governor, he briefly thought better of that.
“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” he told supporters during a February 2022 campaign stop. “What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”
But he quickly walked back that walk back.
“I don’t think that we should have AR-15s and AK-47s on the streets of this state — I have seen what they do to my fellow Texans in El Paso in 2019,” he told The New York Times. “I haven’t changed a thing about that. I’m just telling you I’m going to focus on what I can actually do as governor and where the common ground is.”
O’Rourke’s campaign website eventually settled on the position that he did not believe Americans should be allowed to own the rifles.
“And 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,” he said on the site.
Abbott remained staunchly pro-gun throughout the race. He stood by his decision to sign permitless gun-carry into law. He also resisted calls for new gun restrictions in the wake of Uvalde, including further restrictions on what guns 18-to-20-year-olds can own.
“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde–as much as they may want it–has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” he said at a campaign event in late August, according to The Texas Tribune.
The outcome of key gubernatorial races in New York and Georgia, as well as the contest for control of Congress, will go a long way to further determining the state of gun politics in America.