Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke said Sunday that his personal use and ownership of firearms taught him the responsibility of having guns and can help bridge politically fraught discussions about gun control in the U.S.
The former Texas congressman told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday in Las Vegas that he inherited guns belonging to his great uncle, who had taught him how to shoot and handle a firearm responsibly. He says he and his wife, Amy, who grew up on a New Mexico ranch and used guns, made sure their children also knew how to safely handle guns.
"Not only are they proficient, they also understand the responsibility that comes with using or owning a firearm," he said.
O'Rourke, speaking at a coffee shop 5 miles away from the site of a 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, said he'd like to use his personal experience and the traditions of gun ownership in his home state of Texas to "lead the country on sensible gun safety policy" that reduces violence.
"It is not a politically easy thing to talk about, but I think if we talk about it from experience, out of pride and responsible gun ownership and ensuring that weapons of war are kept on the battlefield and they're not used in our schools and concerts and communities, we'll save a lot more lives and will do nothing to infringe upon any American's Second Amendment rights," he said.
He has called for universal background checks, a federal assault weapons ban, the closing of loopholes that allow someone to purchase a gun before their background check is completed and a ban on bump stocks, the device used by the Las Vegas shooter to mimic a fully automatic weapon.
The El Paso native is on a two-day swing through Nevada, an early Western caucus state with a significant Latino population. At packed gatherings in living rooms, a coffee shop and a Mexican restaurant, O'Rourke praised the role immigrants play in his hometown and in America and occasionally switched to Spanish as he addressed bilingual members of the audience. Before speaking inside the coffee shop, he climbed on top of his rental van and spoke to dozens waiting outside who couldn't fit in the building.
As he spoke to an AP reporter, he was repeatedly stopped by people who wished him well and asked to take a picture, which he always obliged. One man brought him a copy of a newspaper with O'Rourke's picture on it and introduced the candidate to his dog.
O'Rourke, who has called for legalizing marijuana, said he has not yet visited one of Nevada's legal marijuana dispensaries to see what legalization looks like in practice, but he would like to do so.
The three-term congressman also said he doesn't have enough experience with the debate over decriminalizing sex work to give an intelligent answer on whether prostitution should be legalized — as it is in Nevada — but that he'd like to talk to those involved about it, including the sex workers.
O'Rourke has been striking a more centrist message than some of the candidates in the field.
The Republican National Committee said in a statement Sunday that his policies, like an embrace of the "Green New Deal" climate change plan and a past call to tear down the U.S.-Mexico border wall, show he "is on a collision course with everyday Americans who will reject his extremist views that offer no substance or solution."
As he's conducted a marathon tour of early voting and swing states in recent days, O'Rourke has told voters he wants to bring people together and highlighted his plans to visit areas where voters strongly supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
O'Rourke said he thinks he understands the reasoning behind the Democratic National Committee's move to bar Fox News from hosting any Democratic presidential debates, saying it would avoid rewarding a network that has "functionally been a partner to President Trump and his administration, stoking paranoia and fear and anxiety, trafficking in some of the bitterness and meanness and smallness that defines so much of this administration and frankly our national politics."
But O'Rourke said it makes sense to speak to Americans where they are, on whatever news they watch. He said he feels there are some responsible journalists at the network, has appeared on the network and would do so again.