Updated 7:46 a.m. ET, Sept. 13, 2019
In the wake of two mass shootings last month in Texas, gun control took center stage at the third Democratic debate Thursday night, and gave former Congressman Beto O’Rourke one of the best moments of his campaign.
All of the candidates on stage at Texas Southern University in Houston voiced support for some form of gun control, from background checks to limits on gun magazines, but O’Rourke turned up the dial when he was asked specifically if he supported confiscating weapons from legal gun owners.
"When we see that being used against children…,” he said, “hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore."
O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso was the scene of a horrific attack at a Walmart in early August that left 22 people dead. Police officials have said that before the attack the shooter had written a racist screed, which in part said the mass shooting was "in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas."
Earlier in the debate, O’Rourke essentially blamed President Trump for the Walmart massacre, saying that the shooter was “inspired to kill by our president.”
Since the shooting, O’Rourke has spoken frequently, and with very blunt language, about the gun issue. Several of the other Democrats on stage Thursday night complimented him on his response. “Beto, God love you,” said Senator Kamala Harris.
It was perhaps O’Rourke’s biggest moment in the three debates so far during this Democratic nomination process.
Other Democrats also spoke passionately on the issue, blaming both the National Rifle Association and Republicans in Congress for blocking any meaningful actions to limit guns. "If you want action now, we gotta send the message to Mitch McConnell,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. “We can't wait until one of us gets in the White House. We have to pass those bills right now to get this done because we cannot spare another innocent life."
Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked how he could expect to push through gun control when the Obama administration was unable to advance legislative measures after the Sandy Hook school attack in 2012.
"I'm the only one up here who's ever beat the NRA," Biden said, referring to his work getting the Brady Bill signed into law in 1993. The bill established a waiting period for handgun purchases.
Both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren blamed a corrupt political system for allowing the NRA and its campaign contributions to control the fate of gun legislation. “We have a Congress that is beholden to the gun industry," Senator Warren said.
After the debate, O'Rourke called out a tweet by Texas State Rep. Briscoe Cain that O'Rourke called a "death threat."
Thursday’s debate featured 10 candidates that met the Democratic National Committee’s threshold for participation, which took into account poll numbers and campaign donations. At least 10 other candidates failed to make the cut. The debate marked the first time that the three frontrunners ⁠— Biden, Sanders, and Warren ⁠— shared a debate stage.
From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. raise their hands to answer a question, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. / Photo Credit: David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock
With the very first question, the three tangled over their various visions of how to provide health insurance for Americans. Sanders reminded the crowd that he “wrote the damn bill” to establish universal health care. However, Biden said the nation couldn’t afford the price of “Medicare for All,” which Warren also favors, and said he preferred President Obama’s approach.
"The senator says she's for Bernie. Well, I'm for Barack," Biden said.
Warren also gave a nod to the former president, saying, "We all owe a huge debt to President Obama, who fundamentally transformed health care in America."