Days after the FBI arrested an Army soldier who allegedly made threats against his life, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Tuesday told a Dayton crowd that AR-15s and AK-47s are “instruments of terrorism” and must be removed from civilian life.
During a visit to McKinley United Methodist Church in West Dayton, the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful double downed on his proposal to have a mandatory government buyback of certain semi-automatic rifles that he says were designed and engineered to kill people on the battlefield.
“Understanding that there are 10 million of those weapons of war out there in our homes and on our streets must compel us, I believe, to call for bringing every single one of those guns back home,” said O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman.
Back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton on Aug. 3 and 4 have linked the cities in national discussions over gun violence and gun control.
Dayton shooter Connor Betts used a pistol that had a large drum magazine. He killed nine people before police killed him in a span of 32 seconds.
The El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, used an AK-47 to kill 22 people and wound two dozen others within 3 minutes at a Walmart.
O’Rourke, who is from El Paso and represented the 16th congressional district of Texas, supports some of the most extreme gun control measures of members of the Democratic presidential field, including firearm confiscation and gun registration.
O’Rourke, who visited the Oregon District on Tuesday, said a mandatory gun buyback program is more popular than people may realize, even without prominent political leaders calling for such action.
An August Quinnipiac University poll found that 46 percent of registered voters supported a mandatory buyback of “assault weapons,” compared to 49 percent who opposed the idea.
But Republic National Committee spokesperson Mandi Merritt said O’Rourke wants to take Americans’ guns, paychecks, cars, cheeseburgers and straws.
“There isn’t a single Ohioan who is willing to get behind such a radical agenda like that,” she said.
On Tuesday, O’Rourke spoke to a crowd of more than 150 people about gun violence, mass shootings and some of the gun law reforms he supports, which include universal background checks and red flag laws.
He said 40,000 people every year in the United States die from gun violence, and it’s only a matter of time that gun violence hits close to home.
“It found us in El Paso,” he said. “It found you here in Dayton, within 24 hours of the shooting in our community.”
O’Rourke, who is visiting cities across the country to host “community meetings,” said he’s heard heartbreaking stories of gun violence from residents from all over.
He said on Tuesday he learned about the two boys who were shot in the back recently in Dayton, referring to the killing of Javier Harrison and Devin Henderson.
The teens were shot to death Aug. 28 after allegedly trespassing in a garage at a West Dayton home. On Monday, this newspaper first reported that an initial autopsy found both boys were shot in the back.
O’Rourke said the boys did not pose a violent threat and committed no crime “commensurate” with the violence they encountered. He said incidents like this happen all over the country, which is unacceptable.
That “is no numbingly common that it didn’t even make the headlines in El Paso, Texas,” he said. “I just learned about it from coming here to your community. That should shock our conscious and force us to change.”
O’Rourke also said this week he learned he may have been targeted for violence by an Army solider who was arrested by the FBI for plotting to bomb an unnamed news network. The solider allegedly told an undercover agent he wanted to launch an attack and mentioned O’Rourke by name as a possible target.
O’Rourke said this “woke him up to the reality” that far too Americans live each and every day in fear because of the rise in hate crimes.
O’Rourke also criticized President Trump for what he called his racist policies and views. O’Rourke talked about his support of legalizing marijuana, eliminating for-profit prisons, providing health care to all Americans and giving Dreamers an easy path to citizenship.
Christine Legawiec, 45, of Washington Twp., said she is glad someone is advocating forcefully for actions to address the gun violence crisis, because she’s tired of politicians sitting on the fence to try to please both sides of the gun control debate.
“We didn’t a take a middle-of-the-road position on seatbelts,” she said. “People were dying so we said we’re going to put seatbelts in cars and pull you over and check to make sure you have your seatbelt on.”
She said she believes in O’Rourke but will support the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, regardless. Still, she hopes O’Rourke is involved in the next Democratic administration in some role.
“We need his energy,” she said. “He’s young, he draws great crowds and he can put into words what people need to hear to give us hope and have a positive path forward for our country.”
Larry Hollingworth, who was at the church for a lifelong learner’s program in the morning, decided to stay and listen to O’Rourke.
Hollingworth says he voted for President Trump in 2016 and probably will vote for him again in 2020.
Hollingworth said O’Rourke was charismatic and engaging as a speaker, but he believes O’Rourke is highly unlikely to become the Democratic nominee and made some unfair comments about Trump.
“I feel our president was misquoted sometimes, and (O’Rourke) used that more than he should have,” he said. “I think he has a good heart. But I don’t think I’ll vote for him over the president.”
© 2019 the Dayton Daily News
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