Beto O’Rourke Addresses Gun Violence While Campaigning in Northern Virginia

IMG_0398Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been on a swing through Virginia this weekend drawing attention to his presidential campaign, but also rallying support for state and local candidates who have an election coming up on November 5. One of his stops on Saturday was in Fairfax Station where he campaigned with Dan Helmer in the 40th House of Delegates district (a seat currently occupied by Tim Hugo).

As the crowd of approximately 250 people piled into Helmer’s campaign headquarters waiting for Beto to arrive, folks started receiving news alerts about yet another shooting in Texas (O’Rourke’s home state). It was obvious that the Congressman would have to address the issue and there was even some speculation that his appearance might be delayed or canceled so he could focus in on responding to the tragedy.

There wasn’t a delay, but Beto made it clear the lack of progress in regards to gun violence is something he’s frustrated when he said we “know that this is fucked up.” As it was so close to when the tragedy happened and developments were still coming in, he told the crowd he had talked to people in the area but there were still a lot of questions.

“Not sure how many gunman, not sure how many people have been shot, don’t know how many have been killed, the condition of those who have survived, don’t know the motivation, don’t yet know the firearms that were used or how they acquired them,” the Congressman said, “but we do know that this is fucked up.”

“We do know that this has to stop in this country,” Beto added. “There is no reason that we have to accept this as our fortune, as our future, as our fate. And yet functionally, right now, we have a Congress that will not even study gun violence, by law has prevented the Center for Disease Control from knowing the facts, less we be motivated and compelled to do something about them.”

He went on to remind people that the only time we’ve ever seen concrete action on crucial issues from our leaders was when they were forced to do something. He highlighted how the students who led protests at the Woolworth lunch counter and the people who were attacked by police with water hoses in the deep south were what led to President Johnson signing civil rights legislation.

“This is a human caused problem with a human solution,” Beto said while telling the crowd we need to continue the fight to end the epidemic of gun violence. “And if you’re willing, we can be the humans who can do something about this.”

Considering the Republicans, with Tim Hugo in a leadership position, recently adjourned a special session called to focus in on finding to solutions to gun violence after 90 minutes to prevent any real discussion, it’s obvious we need people like Dan Helmer in the House of Delegates. Hugo and other members of the GOP leadership, after all, literally allowed the NRA to set up a war room in the capitol in a desperate attempt to block any sort of meaningful debate.

Even before the shooting in Virginia Beach and GOP’s capitulation to the NRA, Helmer has been actively calling for reforms needed to help address the epidemic of gun violence in this country. He received a lot of attention for a viral video he made back in 2016, for instance, that showed him buying an assault weapon at a gun show without having to go through any sort of background check. He’s also talked about his experience in the military and how he thinks there’s absolutely no reason civilians should be allowed to carry weapons of war.

Of course, this all ties into why campaigns have been working overtime to remind potential voters of what’s at stake this November. While state and local campaigns are getting drowned out by media coverage of the 2020 presidential election and it’s easy to lose focus, there are some crucial races on the ballot in just over two months. That’s why many Virginia activists have made it clear they’ll be looking at how active a presidential candidate is in helping out Virginia Democrats on the ballot this November when deciding who to support in the 2020 primary.

Beto seems to understand this as he’s making it a point to focus in on the Commonwealth and told the crowd in Fairfax Station that “Virginia will set the course for the United States of America.” But he also made sure to highlight that this isn’t just about the election results. It’s about the tenor of the debate and the progress we help make on crucial legislative issues as leaders of both parties will be watching what happens here.

“We understand that as important as 2020 is, the road to get there runs through 2019” the Congressman said. “And if we are going to achieve our potential as a country, we are going to have to start defining and deciding things right now here in Virginia. We are two seats away from being able to gain a majority. Two seats away from ensuring that the will of the people of this Commonwealth is reflected in its government.”

Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see if Beto’s presence in Virginia has any long term impact in the various districts he spent time in. Helmer joked about how he’s never seen the campaign office with so many people in it even though they’ve held dozens of events and contacted thousands of voters through efforts launched out of the office. That obviously means that if nothing else, the campaign was able to collect contact information for people who could potentially volunteer their time or make some campaign donations.

The attention Beto receives from the campaign swing, however, could potentially also inspire some of the other presidential candidates to make appearances in Virginia. Elizabeth Warren did appear at my alma mater (George Mason University) earlier this year and Pete Buttigieg has also made several stops in the Commonwealth, but the next couple months are crunch time and when the state and local candidates could really use the extra attention. It’ll therefore be interesting to see who echoes O’Rourke’s message of addressing issues like the gun violence epidemic starting right here in Virginia.

About Bryan J. Scrafford

Bryan Scrafford grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and stayed in the region for both college and his professional life. An avid baseball and hockey fan, Bryan's also involved with several advocacy organizations fighting for economic justice, LGBT rights, and other issues. You can follow him on twitter at @bscrafford and Instagram at @bjscrafford
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