Beto O’Rourke connects El Paso shooting to Aurora as he pushes for gun control

AURORA — Beto O’Rourke repeated his recent call to round up high-powered assault-style weapons and pushed for stronger gun-control measures Thursday during an outdoor town hall in this Denver suburb, but rarely has his attention to the issue resonated so deeply in a crowd.

O’Rourke’s visit to Aurora, his first to Colorado since he joined the small army of Democrats angling to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, took place near the site of the 2012 movie theater mass shooting. It drew people with connections to that event, including the parents of victim Jessica Ghawi and state Rep. Tom Sullivan, who was spurred to enter politics after his son Alex was killed.

At one point, Columbine survivor Evan Todd, from the crowd, urged O’Rourke to take an even harder stance by subjecting a wider range of weapons to his proposed mandatory buyback program.

“The (mass) murders all happen with semi-automatics,” he said. “Why not ban (all) semi-automatics?”

Standing outside the Aurora Municipal Center in the early evening, O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, sought early on to connect those shootings to last month’s mass-shooting in his hometown, which killed 22 people at a Walmart. And he took aim at Trump, accusing him of doing too little to stem the recurring mass shootings, of using harmful rhetoric and of failing to act on issues ranging from climate change to immigration reform.

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The candidate recounted a May rally for the president at which an attendee shouted that migrants at the border should be shot, drawing a straight line to the El Paso shooting. The shooter told police he sought to target “Mexicans.”

“This wasn’t just a disaster that befell our community,” O’Rourke said. “This is a violent, racist country — with a racist in the White House who’s directing that violence against the most vulnerable among us, including communities of immigrants. So when this happens in El Paso, Texas, we must connect the dots for our fellow Americans so that they understand the cost and the consequence of Donald Trump — (and) so they understand the cost and the consequence of our failure collectively (to act on guns), because all of us are the government.”

The event drew Denver-area voters with a hunger for candidates to take on the gun issue directly — although some were skeptical O’Rourke could get his policies enacted in the current partisan climate.

“We’ve got to be strong at this moment,” he told the crowd of more than 200 that gathered in early evening.