Democrat’s pick for governor of Texas is sticking with a strategy of emphasizing gun restrictions even as he fails to pick up ground against the incumbent.
Beto O’Rourke (D.) has kept up his attacks on Governor Greg Abbott’s (R.) refusal to support stricter gun laws in a series of social media ads posted over the past week, including a pinned tweet critiquing his support for permitless gun carry. That’s despite the focus on guns providing little apparent benefit in polls of the race. Abbott’s lead has only increased in the last month, with a new survey from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler putting him up 11 points among likely voters–just one point off from his largest lead of the cycle.
“It has now been 17 weeks since those 19 children and their two teachers were taken from us in Uvalde,” O’Rourke said Tuesday in an ad featuring a survivor of the Uvalde attack. “Greg Abbott has yet to lift a finger to keep our kids safe.”
The race’s outcome will be one bellwether of how American gun politics are playing out in the wake of the Uvalde massacre, federal bipartisan gun-control law, and the Supreme Court’s recent Bruen ruling, which expanded gun-carry protections. O’Rourke has pushed the boundaries of gun-control advocacy, even endorsing AR-15 confiscation, while Abbott has loosened the state’s gun restrictions. If Abbott can hold off O’Rourke and even expand on the margin of victory Senator Ted Cruz achieved over him in 2018, it will constitute a significant political loss for the gun-control movement. If O’Rourke pulls off the upset, it will represent a potential shift in America’s appetite for new gun restrictions.
However, O’Rourke’s consistently inconsistent message on his gun confiscation plan could make reading the tea leaves of either outcome more difficult.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said during a September 2019 debate. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
After announcing his current run for Texas governor, he flipped.
“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.”
A few days later, he flopped.
“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.”
On his campaign website, O’Rourke currently says nobody should be allowed to own the guns.
“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.
Support for “a mandatory program where the government would buy back semi-automatic assault-style rifles from citizens who currently own them” fell by a point to 52 percent in the latest Morning News poll. However, Texans were more likely to strongly oppose the idea than strongly support it. While still supported by a majority, the confiscation scheme was the least popular gun policy polled. 55 percent of Texans said they support arming teachers, which O’Rourke opposes and Abbott supports.
The poll also found respondents supported raising the age to buy “semi-automatic assault-style rifles” by a 73 to 21 margin, though it didn’t offer a definition for what an “assault-style” rifle. O’Rourke has recently focused on that policy over his confiscation scheme. He rebuked Abbott and Texas Republicans for not implementing the ban even though Florida Republicans have done so.
“It only took 3 weeks for Republicans in Florida to raise the age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21 after the Parkland shooting,” he said in a statement posted on his social media accounts on Tuesday. “Abbott has had 17 weeks since Uvalde and won’t even call a Special Session. He’s not going to keep our kids safe. We will by voting him out.”
Abbott has opposed banning those under 21 from buying the guns because he believes such a ban would violate the Second Amendment.
“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 late last month, according to The Texas Tribune.
The most recent poll of the race from The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas put the race closer, with O’Rourke at 40 percent and Abbott at 45 percent. It also found Abbott was underwater on his handling of gun policy, and a majority wanted stricter gun laws. 78 percent said gun violence is very or somewhat important to their vote in November.
That may help explain why O’Rourke has focused so intently on the issue during his campaign. In addition to the ads and social media statements, O’Rourke also attempted to shout down Abbott during a press conference in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. He even cursed out a man for laughing at his gun-control proposals during a rally last month.
Despite all of that, The Tribune poll found Texans said guns were only the sixth-most-important issue in the race. The respondents were also evenly split on who would handle gun violence better.
The Tribune poll was conducted by YouGov among 1,360 registered voters in Texas between August 26th and September 6th. The Morning News poll was conducted among 1,268 registered voters in Texas between September 6th and 13th.