A Republican Texas state representative on Friday defended himself against criticism for tweeting that he had an assault weapon ready for Democratic president candidate Beto O’Rourke.
The tweet by state Rep. Briscoe Cain came after O’Rourke pledged Thursday night during the Democratic debate that “hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47” when asked about a mandatory assault weapons buyback proposal he’s endorsed.
Cain tweeted: “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” using O’Rourke’s full name.
O’Rourke called the tweet “a death threat” underscoring the danger of such weapons and said his campaign had reported it to the FBI, although Cain said he had not been contacted by federal authorities.
“This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn’t own an AR-15—and neither should anyone else,” O’Rourke replied on Twitter.
A Twitter spokesman said Cain’s tweet was removed for violating the company’s rules against violence and wishing harm against others.
In an interview Friday with ABC affiliate KTRK in Houston, Cain accused O’Rourke of spinning his tweet into a death threat. Cain maintained the tweet was “not a true threat at all” but a reflection of the popular Texas saying, “come and take it.”
“What this really shows is how, how dangerous some of this is that people want to try to spin somebody’s words in order to try to take their guns away,” Cain said. “And Beto O’Rourke knew that. He knew exactly what it was, and he seized the day to try to make some news.”
Cain also said his family is now under Texas Department of Public Safety protection because of threats he has received after posting the tweet.
His tweet came during a politically charged moment and escalated an already tense atmosphere in Texas over guns following two mass shootings in August left 29 people dead.
O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, has made gun control his signature issue in the aftermath of one of those mass shootings last month in his hometown of El Paso.
Cain’s tweet was a “really irresponsible thing for him to do, especially somebody who is a public servant and in a position of public trust,” O’Rourke said in an interview Friday on CNN.
It “drives home the point, better than I could’ve made” that such weapons shouldn’t be readily available.
“No one should have an AR-15 that they could hold over someone else in this country, say, ‘Look, if we disagree on something, let me introduce you to my AR-15.’ Absolutely wrong,” O’Rourke said.
Cain is a lawyer who was first elected in 2016 and is part of the small Freedom Caucus in the Texas House that represents the GOP’s most socially conservative wing. Last year, Cain called for recouping tax dollars from any public school that allowed students to walk out in support of gun control measures following a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Democratic lawmakers in Texas also joined O’Rourke in rebuking Cain’s tweet.
“In case you forgot, people were just killed in El Paso. People were murdered,” said Democratic state Rep. Mary Gonzalez. “The language you are using and the way you are using it is dangerous. We need leaders who want to change our culture of violence.”
Polls have shown the majority of Americans favor more restrictions on guns and most of the Democratic presidential field has called for a ban on assault weapons.
(The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.)
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