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Countdown to 2020: Beto O’Rourke on Gun Safety

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In 2018, voters elected a wave of candidates who prioritized gun safety like never before. No longer a third rail of politics, gun violence prevention is now a top issue heading into the 2020 presidential election. In this regular series, we delve into the gun safety platforms of Democratic presidential candidates who have released initial policy plans to address this issue. While not an endorsement of any candidate or their platform, each post looks at a candidate’s record, explains their proposals, and shares our analysis.

Beto O’Rourke’s Record on Gun Safety

Born and raised in a state with a strong tradition of gun ownership, Beto O’Rourke has been around firearms his entire life, and owns several guns he inherited from a great uncle. During his first congressional campaign in 2012, O’Rourke defeated a Democratic incumbent with a high rating from the NRA. He went on to earn straight ‘F’s’ from the NRA until he left Congress to run for Senate in 2018.

“This is a human-caused problem with a human solution.” May 18, 2019

During his Senate campaign, O’Rourke garnered national attention for his commitment to traveling across Texas while speaking with candor on the issues voters cared about—including gun violence. O’Rourke stressed the corrupting influence of the corporate gun lobby and the need for solutions that the vast majority of Americans agree on, such as universal background checks. His narrow loss to Ted Cruz while running on such a strong gun safety platform in a historically conservative state is proof of just how much the politics of guns have shifted in recent years.

Beto O’Rourke’s Plan to Address Gun Violence

In the wake of the shooting in his hometown of El Paso that claimed 22 lives earlier this month, Beto O’Rourke called out President Trump for emboldening strains of white nationalism within our nation. On August 16, Beto O’Rourke released his plan to address our nation’s gun violence epidemic, which tackles the spread of hatred and white nationalism online, while also addressing the dangerous combination of weak gun laws, a powerful gun lobby, and congressional inaction.

Create a Nationwide Gun Licensing System

Licensing laws have been proven effective in the states that have them. When Connecticut passed a licensing law, its firearm homicide rate decreased by 40% and its firearm suicide rate decreased by 15%. And these laws have broad public support—a 2019 survey found that 77% of Americans support requiring a person to obtain a license from local law enforcement before buying a gun.

O’Rourke plan calls for a nationwide gun licensing system in which individuals must be 21 years of age to obtain a license, a process which will involve passing a background check, undergoing an assessment by law enforcement, and completing gun safety training. Under O’Rourke’s proposed plan, licenses will need to be renewed every five years.

Crack Down on Trafficking and Bulk Purchasing

A recent New York Times piece highlighted the devastation that American firearms can wreak in other countries, aided and abetted by our weak gun laws. Trafficked guns are also frequently brought across state lines from states with weak gun laws to those with strong gun laws, driving up homicide rates in cities like Chicago and Baltimore.

“America’s weak gun laws have contributed to the spread in gun violence abroad.” August 16, 2019

Research suggests that there are more than 30,000 attempted straw purchases—in which an individual purchases a gun for someone who is legally prohibited from buying one—each year. As president, Beto O’Rourke would treat gun trafficking and straw purchases as serious offenses

There is currently no federal limit on the amount of firearms that can be purchased by an individual within a given time frame. Multiple sales are a significant indicator of firearms trafficking, and firearms sold in such sales are frequently recovered at crime scenes. O’Rourke’s plan also addresses weapons stockpiling by limiting individuals to one gun purchase per month.

Treat Gun Violence as a Public Health Emergency

Researchers estimate that gun violence receives less than 2% of the funding it would be expected to receive based on the scope and toll of the problem. The federal government spends only $57 in research dollars per gun death—by contrast, lung disease, cancer, and heart disease receive $6,556, $2,996, and $1,740 per death, respectively.

As president, Congressman O’Rourke promises to use executive action to declare gun violence a public health crisis, and to allocate $320 million annually for the CDC and the NIH to study gun violence.

Our Take

Just a few short weeks ago, a mass shooter motivated by white nationalism targeted Beto O’Rourke’s hometown. O’Rourke responded to the tragedy by demonstrating support for his community, including joining Gabby Giffords at the hospital to visit survivors—and with renewed calls for federal action in the face of this devastating epidemic. A gun owner who has for years called for gun safety reform, Beto O’Rourke is committed to enacting immediate and lasting change if he is elected president.


The 2020 Democratic candidates have demonstrated time and time again that they don’t take orders from the gun lobby, and will never put the needs of the NRA over the needs of the American people. Their thoughtful, ambitious plans give us hope that 2020 will provide an opportunity for truly lifesaving progress at the federal level.