Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Friday defended his support for a mandatory gun buyback program of assault-style weapons, saying he believes it’s an issue that resonates with voters, including some conservatives.
During the presidential debate Thursday night, O’Rourke said that, if elected president, he would issue a mandatory buyback program for assault-style rifles, saying, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” The comments are striking not just for their directness, but also because for decades, Democrats have avoided suggesting that the government should take back guns out of concern that such a platform would be politically toxic in much of the country.
Asked in a CNN interview Friday morning if he was concerned that his call would imperil Democrats’ chances in the general election, O’Rourke said he was not and that he’s been listening to conservatives. Reflecting on his campaign stop in Bland County, Virginia, in August, he said citizens are open to the idea of giving up assault weapons.
“It’s not a concern of mine and that’s in part informed by listening to people in conservative parts of America and the southwestern part of Virginia,” he said. “The folks in Bland County, as conservative as it might be, as proud a gun owner as they might be, they’re talking about this issue. And folks are saying, ‘Look, I would give up that AR-15 or that AK-47. I don’t need it to hunt, don’t need it to defend myself in my home.’ They recognize this is a weapon designed for war, to kill people as effectively, as efficiently, and in as great a number as possible.”
Speaking to CNN later Friday morning, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said he does not support a mandatory gun buyback program and criticized O’Rourke’s debate remarks.
“I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying, ‘Democrats are coming for your guns,'” he said. “I’m a gun owner. My sons and I have gone skeet shooting and hunting and, frankly, I don’t think having our presidential candidates, like Congressman O’Rourke did, say that we’re going to try and take people’s guns against their will is wise either.”
He also said while he respects O’Rourke’s passion, he doesn’t think the policy is going to be accepted.
“I don’t think a majority of the Senate or the country is going to embrace mandatory buybacks,” he said. “We need to focus on what we can get done. And we need to focus on the challenge here which is that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate and our President are refusing to listen to the 93% of Americans who want us to do something on background checks. Let’s get that done first.”
On Friday, O’Rourke also spoke about Republican Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain’s tweet in which he threatened O’Rourke with an AR-15. The tweet has since been taken down by Twitter.
“Any time you have somebody threatening to use violence against somebody in this country to resolve a political issue really for any reason. That’s a matter for law enforcement,” he said.”Representative Briscoe Cain is making the case that no one should have an AR-15 that they can hold over someone in this country, say, ‘Look, if we disagree on something, let me introduce you to my AR-15.’ Absolutely wrong.”
O’Rourke is one of three Democrats, along with Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, to support mandatory buybacks for certain guns. Other Democrats would make them illegal but not require them to be bought back by the government.
According to a NPR/PBS NewsHour Marist poll released this week, 46% of Americans do not think Congress should “create a mandatory buyback program of assault guns,” while 45% do.
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