CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke met a cheering crowd Wednesday outside a North Carolina brewery and quickly brought them to a hush with his plan to combat gun violence.
“Not only does it offend us,” O’Rourke said of gun violence and hatred, “it is fundamentally changing us.”
Addressing a packed patio at Armored Cow Brewing Co., O’Rourke began his town-hall event by thanking present members of Moms Who Demand Action and the group March for Our Lives, which has a chapter one mile away at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Endorsing a plan for peace that the student group recently posted online, O’Rourke noted that hate crimes have risen the last three years in the U.S.
“In those countries that hosted a Donald Trump rally, hate crimes are up more than 200%,” O’Rourke said.
The last time O’Rourke spoke in Charlotte, it was a mellow gathering on an urban lawn at Central Piedmont Community College in April.
Two weeks later at UNCC, a former student opened fire in a classroom, killing two students and injuring four others just before finals.
And four months later, a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, Texas.
A UNCC student in Wednesday’s Charlotte audience asked O’Rourke exactly how he planned to curb gun violence.
The candidate responded on Wednesday he would implement, as president, universal background checks and close all loopholes wriggling into laws that govern how, and to whom, firearms are sold.
O’Rourke also underscored buying back AR-15 weapons from civilians as a “politically bold, but absolutely necessary” step in the plan.
O’Rourke’s first campaign trek through the Carolinas since the El Paso shooting began Monday night with a visit to the College of Charleston, followed by Johns Island on Tuesday morning.
Hosting a town hall event Tuesday at the historically black Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, O’Rourke’s campaign drew criticism for booting out Breitbart’s Joel Pollak.
But O’Rourke’s campaign said in a statement on Wednesday that Breitbart “walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.”
The candidate told spectators on Wednesday that hatred and racism was unleashed and made permissible by President Donald Trump “unlike any leader in my lifetime.”
The El Paso shooter “wanted to kill Mexicans,” O’Rourke said Wednesday, citing an online manifesto that mirrored rhetoric used publicly by Trump. O’Rourke called out Trump specifically for failing to condemn hateful acts of violence.
Though spectators in Charlotte on Wednesday posed an array of questions related to many different topics, O’Rourke stuck mostly to the issues of climate change and gun violence.
“When you ask how are we going to pay for it,” O’Rourke said of his proposals on climate change mitigation, “one of the questions that I think of is ‘how in the world can we not pay for it now, because the cost over the long term is not in the millions or billions or even single-digit trillions, but it’s going to be tens of hundreds of trillions of dollars.”
The candidate said Wednesday this anticipated lofty cost would emerge from bailouts or restorations of communities wiped out by climate disasters.
O’Rourke condemned Trump’s funnel of FEMA funding to building a wall on the southern border, when a Puerto Rican resident of North Carolina asked how he would help with disaster relief as president. O’Rourke on Wednesday committed to “fully restoring funding to FEMA.”
North Carolina is considered a swing state since voters previously went for both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.
O’Rourke will tour the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro on Thursday.