“I remember when we learned of the shooting on April 30, and how everyone who heard that news — wherever they were, whatever political party they belonged to, however many guns they owned or did not own — thought of their kids or their time in college,” Beto O’Rourke told a crowd of students, professors and community members who gathered to hear him speak about gun control just 3 miles away from the site of the UNC Charlotte shooting.

“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in college, high school or middle school who know exactly what bookshelf they’re going to pull down when a shooter enters their classroom,” said the Democratic presidential candidate.

The event was organized by Cade Lee, a UNC Charlotte senior running for the District 3 seat of the Mecklenburg County Commissioners. After the shooting, Lee reached out to five presidential candidates in hopes they would hold a town hall about gun reform. 

“Charlotte has surpassed 70 homicides this year and we don’t have any officials making this a major issue,” said Lee. 

Lee was also the founder of UNC Charlotte’s chapter of March For Our Lives, a student-led organization that advocates for stricter gun control. Beto O’Rourke is the first presidential candidate to endorse MFOL’s Peace Plan, a six-step strategy to address the United States’ gun violence epidemic. It involves reforming the standards of gun ownership, reducing gun-related homicides by 50% in 10 years, increasing accountability of the gun industry, appointing a director of gun violence prevention, generating community-based solutions, and creating a “Safety Corps,” a Peace Corps for gun violence prevention. 

UNC Charlotte sophomore Margaret Murphy, who is now the chapter director of MFOL UNC Charlotte, said O’Rourke’s endorsement of the Peace Plan was what motivated her to attend the town hall. “He probably has the best gun plan in the game right now,” she stated. 

Lee agreed, saying, “Beto has been very consistent with his views on gun reform so far this campaign.”

O’Rourke told the crowd that he remains hopeful about changing the American gun paradigm. He described a gun show in Conway, Arkansas where he spoke with several gun merchants, AR-15 owners and Trump supporters about their willingness to trade in their firearms. “What I learned in that community that may be more Republican than Democrat,” said O’Rourke, “is that those folks care just as much about this issue. If we bring them in instead of writing them off, then they might be part of the solution going forward.”

UNC Charlotte sophomore Audrey Wallace said she left band practice early to see O’Rourke speak. “We heard he was going to talk about gun control, and he wouldn’t [have held] it this close to the University if he weren’t going to,” she told the Niner Times.

Senior Patrick Green, an English major like O’Rourke, said “[O’Rourke] seems really genuine and I really appreciate that. I’m actually team Warren, but Beto coming here articulating the issues struck a chord with me and resonated [with] me. And to unveil this gun violence reform plan, which you know it’s so dear to all of us at UNC Charlotte — it’s so real for us — it was really kind of just, you know, it was emotional.”

O’Rourke also discussed white supremacy as a component of gun violence, referring to the recent surge in gun-related hate crimes. He addressed topics including the environment, student debt, immigration and ICE raids, the importance of voting, and self determination for Puerto Rico.

O’Rourke’s visit to Charlotte was part of a new campaign strategy that he developed after the shooting in El Paso, Texas. He says rather than focusing on the swing states, he will visit “those places where Donald Trump has been terrorizing and terrifying and demeaning our fellow Americans.”

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