“Gov. Abbott, I have to say something,” O’Rourke — a former congressman who represented El Paso, Texas, and is a former Senate and presidential candidate — said as he approached the stage in Uvalde, Texas.
“The time to stop the next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing,” O’Rourke told Abbott. The two will face off in Texas’ gubernatorial race in November.
“You said this is not predictable. This is totally predictable,” he said of Tuesday’s shooting at a local elementary school where 21 people — including 19 children — died and 17 were injured.
This is far from the first time O’Rourke has spoken out on gun violence. The former congressman used his platform during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary to advocate for stricter gun control measures, including a mandatory assault weapon buyback program. His focus on the issue was sharpened by an August 2019 racist massacre at a Walmart store in El Paso.
At a Democratic debate the following month, he was unapologetic about the stance, which drew swift backlash from Republicans and would have gone further than most of the proposals being discussed by his rival primary candidates.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said to applause in the debate hall. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
His declaration then, well before he decided on a gubernatorial run this year, set up a stark contrast with Abbott, who has frequently touted any move to loosen restrictions on access to and possession of guns. Abbott is scheduled to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston this week.
O’Rourke addressed Abbott directly as he left the room on Wednesday: “This is on you, until you choose to do something different.”
“This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed, just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday,” he added.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Abbott argued that tougher gun laws aren’t a “real solution.”
“People who think maybe we can implement tough gun laws and we can solve it — Chicago, New York and LA disprove that thesis. Chicago teaches you that what you are talking about isn’t a real solution,” Abbott said.
Abbott also said there are continuing discussions about how to address people with mental health challenges in the state, as well as ways to keep schools safe.
Confrontation with officials
Prior to O’Rourke’s exit, Texas Republican Lt. gov. Dan Patrick told the former congressman, “You’re out of line and an embarrassment.”
“Sit down,” Sen. Ted Cruz, O’Rourke’s opponent in the 2018 Senate race, said, shaking his head.
Another official onstage, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, shouted profanities at O’Rourke and appeared to direct authorities in the room to remove the former congressman from the auditorium.
O’Rourke was then led away by officers.
“(Abbott) said he was going to do something. He did nothing. In fact, the only thing he did was make it easier to carry a gun in public,” O’Rourke told reporters after he exited the press conference.
The former congressman said the Texas governor’s “only interest is the gun lobby.”
He pointed out to reporters that Abbott is currently scheduled to speak at the National Rifle Association convention this Friday in Houston, “just days after these kids were slaughtered right here in Uvalde, after they were slaughtered at Santa Fe High School, at Sutherland Springs, In Midland-Odessa, in El Paso, Texas.”
“Five of the worst mass hosting in US history, right here in this state in the last five years. He was governor for every single one of them,” O’Rourke continued.
Less than an hour before O’Rourke interrupted the press conference, he sent an email to his supporters where he said the Uvalde shooting is a “direct consequence” of “choices made by Greg Abbott.”
“These massacres are not natural disasters, acts of God, or random. They are totally predictable, direct consequences of the choices made by Greg Abbott and the majority of those in the Texas legislature,” he wrote.
This story has been updated with additional details from the event.
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Amanda Musa, Ashley Killough and Brian Rokus contributed to this report.