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September 20, 2019

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In Las Vegas forum, 2020 candidates say country ‘under attack’ after Texas mass shooting

O’Rourke: ‘El Paso is the strongest place in the world’

AFSCME Public Service Forum at UNLVDemocratic presidential candidate XXX speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Service Forum at UNLV Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Steve Marcus

Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Service Forum at UNLV Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Beto O'Rourke was in Las Vegas Saturday for a presidential forum at UNLV. His mind, clearly, was in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

Reports of the mass shooting at an El Paso shopping center quickly became his focus. O’Rourke, one of the nearly 20 candidates campaigning in Las Vegas, called for military-style weapons to be kept on the battlefield and stressed the need to not give up on gun-law reform. The shooting claimed the lives at least 15.

O'Rourke, who said he had called his wife before taking the stage, said the shooting shatters "any illusion that we have that progress is inevitable" on tackling gun violence.

“We have to find some reason for optimism and hope, or else we consign ourselves to a future where nearly 40,000 people a year will lose their lives to gun violence,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke was emotional in his address and held back tears. At times, he seemed to be at a loss for words. He left for El Paso shortly after speaking and cancelled a planned trip to a California prison.

“I’ll tell you that El Paso is the strongest place in the world,” he said. “This community is going to come together.”

Other candidates in Las Vegas also weighed in on the shooting.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, attacked Republican leadership and the National Rifle Association, saying that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of gun reform.

“It’s not just today,” Sanders said. “It has happened several times this week. It has happened here in Las Vegas where some lunatic killed fifty-some-odd people and wounded hundreds of people.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the violence “our sickness.”

“I can’t talk about another issue without expressing not just heartsickness but anger that we have a president who refuses to protect his country from the onslaught of this gun violence,” he said.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the country was “under attack.”

“We can respect the Second Amendment and not allow it to be a death sentence for thousands of Americans,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.