Some Gun-Toting Texans Embrace Democrat's Call For Tougher Firearm Laws

Texas cattle rancher Bill Martin is a lifelong Republican who owns more than 20 firearms and has been shooting guns since the age of 6.

He is now considering the once-unthinkable: voting for a Democratic Senate candidate who wants tougher gun laws.

Martin, 72, has a simple explanation for his change of heart: He is sick of the gun violence plaguing America and his gun-loving state, where 26 worshippers died in a church massacre last year.

Martin’s nuanced view on firearms - he loves them but wants to see tougher restrictions - is one U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke hopes is gaining traction in Texas.

O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso and the Democratic challenger to Ted Cruz in November’s Texas Senate race, has made reforming gun laws a central part of his platform, calling for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

In previous elections, a Democrat calling for gun reforms in Texas, which has the country’s highest rate of gun ownership, faced almost certain political suicide. But O’Rourke is presenting a serious challenge to Cruz.

A Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics poll released on Wednesday shows O’Rourke having pulled even with Cruz among likely voters. Other recent polling has shown Cruz slightly ahead, and a Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday found O’Rourke trailing by 9 percentage points.

To win in November, O’Rourke would need massive Democratic turnout, said the University of Virginia’s Skelley, and the gun issue might help him motivate the party’s base.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and Texas native, is skeptical whether most gun owners will accept O’Rourke’s message. 

“I don’t see the issue helping O’Rourke,” O’Connell said. “It may help with his base, but this helps Cruz more.”

Read more from Tim Reid and James Oliphant at Reuters

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