“The comment about guns is going to be his biggest problem,” said Holly Gage, 40, who arrived at the Tyler park early with her family. “My husband is on the fence. It’s due to the gun thing.”
“Texas,” added her mother, Sheila Thrash, 63, “believes in its guns.”
Mr. O’Rourke’s presidential campaign shadows his run for governor, complicating his effort to present himself as a pragmatic, there-for-you Texan who embraces responsible gun ownership and wants to win over moderate voters. His 2020 campaign remarks have figured prominently in attacks by Mr. Abbott and are familiar to many voters in a state where Democrats also proudly own guns. Mr. O’Rourke counts himself among their number — he and his wife own firearms, his campaign said — and he appears well aware of the liability.
“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” Mr. O’Rourke said during a news conference in Tyler, in response to questions from The New York Times. “What I want to make sure we do is defend the Second Amendment.”
Later in a telephone interview, he said he did not regret any policy positions he took while running for president and denied that he was walking back his comments about assault weapons. He said that as governor, he would push for universal background checks and requirements for the safe storage of firearms.
“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 said, referring to a gunman who killed 23 people at a Walmart in the deadliest anti-Latino attack in modern American history. “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.”
— J. David Goodman in For Beto O’Rourke, 2020 Still Haunts 2022