Beto OÕRourke speaks to the crowd that gathered for a town hall meeting at the McAllen Creative Incubator Tuesday, June 7, 2022 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

McALLEN — Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke visited the Rio Grande Valley Tuesday to discuss his plan to protect children from gun violence in schools.

As he made his entrance to the McAllen Creative Incubator, located in the 600 block of North Main Street, O’Rourke was greeted by a standing-room only crowd and corridos courtesy of Frutty Villarreal Y Los Mavericks.

“Our communities are so often misunderstood and spoken for by other people who frankly have never been here before,” O’Rourke, an El Paso native, said. “They tell us what we need and what we have to be scared of and what we must guard against. In fact, if I didn’t know better — if this were not my sixth visit to the Rio Grande Valley since we launched this campaign — I might be forgiven for being afraid when I came down this year.”

O’Rourke was critical of Gov. Greg Abbott and his depiction of the Valley and other border communities as dangerous areas that are under invasion.

“Our current governor wants you to be scared of the invasion that is coming into this country right now through this community,” O’Rourke said. “Those people who are coming to get us and get our kids. It is so dangerous, he told us in 2019, that we must take matters into our own hands. We must defend ourselves, the governor said of the state of Texas, from this invasion.”

O’Rourke said it was that rhetoric that inspired a gunman to kill 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019.

“I bring this up because not only do we shake our heads when we hear someone like Greg Abbott, or Ken Paxton, or Dan Patrick, or Donald Trump describe our communities as these warzones and talk about all the walls that we need to build up — all the militarization, the infestation — that was a word used to describe immigrants,” O’Rourke said. “Animals was another term the former president used to describe those people seeking asylum and refuge in a country that’s by and large the prize of refugees and asylum seekers going back more than 400 years — it not only annoys us, it not only runs counter to our experience in our home and towns, I’m telling you ladies and gentlemen, this is life and death for our country.”

Beto O’Rourke speaks during a town hall meeting at the McAllen Creative Incubator Tuesday, June 7, 2022 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

His visit to the Valley comes two weeks after an 18-year-old gunman massacred 19 students and two teachers with an AR-style rifle at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. O’Rourke made headlines the following day when he interrupted a news conference held by Abbott and Patrick, the lieutenant governor.

Addressing the McAllen crowd Tuesday evening, O’Rourke continued to blast Abbott and his response to the shooting in Uvalde.

“What if the governor said, ‘I’m really worried, and if you want to use the word ‘scared,’ maybe I’m scared about the NRA,’” O’Rourke said. “After every one of these massacres and tragedies, the response isn’t ‘How do I save kids from being shot in the face? How do I save those shoppers at Walmart from being killed in front of their grandkids? How do I stop Sutherland Springs, or Santa Fe High School, or Midland–Odessa where seven people were killed by a guy with an AR-15?’”

“It’s, ‘How do I sell more of these on the streets?’” he continued. “That’s exactly the fear that they are operating on right now. Those in positions of power, whether it is our mayor, or council members, or governor in this case, the number one priority has to be keeping us safe — keeping all of us safe.”

Editor’s note: This story’s headline was updated to reflect the correct amount of times O’Rourke visited the RGV.