O’Rourke, other Dem candidates push for gun safety in Las Vegas

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Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was emotional while addressing reporters after he appeared onstage at a Democratic candidate forum in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The former congressman from Texas spoke shortly after learning of a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in Saturday’s shooting at a shopping center in the Texas border city.

O’Rourke canceled his remaining weekend events in Nevada, flying out of a city that knows the heartache of mass murder to be with one that is experiencing it.

“I’m incredibly saddened, and it is very hard to think about this,” he told reporters, choking up. “But I’ll tell you, El Paso is the strongest place in the world. This community is going to come together. I’m going back there right now to be with my family and to be with my hometown.”

O’Rourke told the audience at the forum that he learned of the shooting and called his wife before coming onstage.

“Any illusion that we had that progress is inevitable or that the change that we need is going to come of its own accord, is shattered in moments like these,” he told the crowd.

Other candidates who appeared at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees forum for a day dedicated to talking mostly about union issues offered thoughts of sympathy, frustration and paths toward action to curb gun violence.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told reporters that Americans — both gun owners and non-gun owners — are united in wanting lawmakers to pass what he describes as “common sense” gun safety legislation.

Later Saturday, Sanders asked the more than 200 people who attended his economic equality discussion at The Center in downtown Las Vegas for a moment of silence for the victims and their families in El Paso.

In an interview with the Review-Journal after his campaign event, Sanders blamed the National Rifle Association for the lack of legislative action.

“And the NRA has enormous influence over the Republican Party. And my hope is that President Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will no longer be intimidated by this one organization,” he said.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to offer the federal government’s full support to officials in Texas.

“Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people….” he wrote in the first of a pair of tweets. “….Melania and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the great people of Texas.”

Authorities in Texas are investigating whether Saturday’s attack was a hate crime.

‘It’s just rational’

Following an event after the candidate forum, former Vice President Joe Biden called the shooting “sickening” and said America should re-enact the ban on assault weapons that was a feature of the crime bill he helped pass as a U.S. senator from Delaware in the 1990s.

“The idea that we can’t once again beat the NRA and block assault weapons,” he said. “(Limiting) the amount of bullets that can be in a clip, making sure that we have thorough background checks. I mean, it doesn’t violate anybody’s Second Amendment rights. But it’s just rational.”

The assault weapons ban in the crime bill expired and was not renewed during the presidency of George W. Bush. But Biden said it makes sense to bring it back.

“But not only the NRA, but the gun manufacturers, all they want to do is sell guns,” he said. “What do (we) need that (for)? You know, there’s not a whole lot of deer out there wearing Kevlar vests, you know what I mean?”

Biden added: “And the irony is, a significant portion of the NRA’s members agree with this.”

After his visit and tour of the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center on Saturday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said mass shootings in America, including the Oct. 1, 2017, Route 91 Harvest massacre, are a tragedy that needs to end.

“The question has to be now, how many more until we all say, ‘enough,’” he said when asked about Saturday’s shooting.

Booker said he would push for common sense gun reform, including gun licensing, if elected president.

“I think thoughts and prayers are just not enough for this,” he said.

Staff writers Rory Appleton and Katelyn Newberg, and Politics and Government Editor Steve Sebelius contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.