Government

Aiming for top 3 Iowa finish, Beto O'Rourke to focus on curbing gun violence

Texan wants mandatory gun buyback program

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas speaks Wednesday to a delegate at the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, at Prairie Meadows in Altoona. O’Rourke on Thursday said on “Iowa Press” that he is refocusing his presidential campaign on gun violence and what he calls President Donald Trump’s racism. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas speaks Wednesday to a delegate at the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, at Prairie Meadows in Altoona. O’Rourke on Thursday said on “Iowa Press” that he is refocusing his presidential campaign on gun violence and what he calls President Donald Trump’s racism. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

JOHNSTON — Beto O’Rourke acknowledged Thursday that his campaign needs a top three finish in Iowa to be viable in the race to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

O’Rourke, who was polling at less than 1 percent in a Monmouth University poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers earlier this month, is counting on a campaign reset focusing on gun violence and what he calls President Donald Trump’s racism to improve his likelihood of winning one of the proverbial three tickets out of the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.

His plans include a mandatory gun buyback program.

“We need a president who reflects this urgency” to address gun violence, O’Rourke said, adding that he’s aware of how “politically challenging (and) how difficult that would be” to implement a mandatory buyback program.

“It will not be a voluntary program,” O’Rourke said. “The alternative is to just accept as our fortune and our fate and our future the death of 40,000 Americans a year.”

Background checks, red flag laws and ending the sale of assault weapons will help.

“But we have to take that intellectually honest, politically difficult step of buying those weapons back out of our lives and keep them on the battlefield, not in our communities,” he said.

The former Texas congressman said he also would have a national director of gun violence prevention to coordinate the federal response and report to the president.

O’Rourke has endorsed the Peace Plan for a Safer America proposed by survivors of the Parkland school shooting that would create a national licensing and gun registry, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and create a national gun buyback program.

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O’Rourke returned to the campaign trail this week after taking off time to grieve with his El Paso community where 22 people were killed in a mass shooting that he said was “fueled and motivated by a racism that has long existed in this country but has been given open license by this president.”

His path forward in Iowa and elsewhere, O’Rourke said during a Thursday taping of “Iowa Press,” is to show up and listen to people, and bring them together around the goal of ending gun violence.

“Not just to be there when people are having a hard time or overcoming a challenge like we did in El Paso, but to listen to them, to understand the solutions to their challenges and to our challenges on gun violence, racism, on domestic terrorism, to make sure we elevate those who have been subjugated or kept down or marginalized in this country,” O’Rourke said,

O’Rourke also defended his decision to run for president rather than for the U.S. Senate as part of Democrats’ efforts to flip control of that chamber of Congress.

O’Rourke’s “Iowa Press” interview will air at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30; 2:30 a.m. Aug. 31; and noon Sept. 1 on Iowa Public Television; and at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 31 on IPTV World.

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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