WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke defended his call for mandatory buybacks of certain semi-automatic weapons in an exclusive interview on "Meet the Press" Sunday, pushing back on criticism from Republicans — as well as some from within his own party — who think the Democratic presidential hopeful’s proposal has gone too far.
O'Rourke said the opposition to his proposal shows “how screwed up the priorities in Washington D.C. are” while evoking recent, high-profile mass shootings like the one in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.
“I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling, or the fear or the NRA. That has purchased the complicity and silence of members of Congress,” he said.
“And this weak response to a real tragedy in America, 40,000 gun deaths a year, we’ve got to do something about it and I'm proposing we do something about it.”
O’Rourke's plan would ban weapons classified as “assault weapons” as well as high-capacity magazines and silencers. It would also mandate that people who own weapons that become illegal under the new policy sell their guns back to the government.
When asked why his position shifted from beyond his initial call for an “assault weapon ban” with no mandatory buyback, the Texan pointed to the recent tragedy in his hometown that prompted him to take a break from campaigning before returning as an even more vocal proponent of reforming gun laws.
“On Aug. 3, in El Paso, with 22 people killed and dozens more grievously injured, I could no longer accept that would be enough because there are still more than 10 million assault weapons, weapons of war, out on the street,” he said.
“If we agree they are dangerous to sell and that we should stop selling them, then we also have to agree that these are instruments of terror that are still out there and have to be brought back home or they are going to be used against us.”
O’Rourke’s proposal has become central to his presidential bid. After he passionately defended his buyback proposal on the debate stage last week, his campaign attempted to seize on the moment to fill its fundraising coffers, offering a shirt on its online store that reads: “Hell yes we’re going to take your AR-15.”
But that direct call has prompted criticism from Republicans, as well as concern from within his own party.
Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, who has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, told CNN on Friday that he thinks the plan plays into the talking point from Republicans that “Democrats are coming for your guns” and said that he thinks the proposal isn’t “wise.”
And Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey, who has been one of the more prominent Republican voices working to strengthen gun background check requirements, called the plan “an awful and extreme idea” that “undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts.”
Asked about that criticism, O’Rourke brushed it aside to argue there’s more bipartisan consensus on the issue than it might seem.
“This is constitutionally sound. This is absolutely necessary if we care about the lives of our fellow Americans,” he said.
“Not only is this constitutionally sound, I think there’s support beyond the Democratic Party to include Republicans and independents, gun-owners and non-gun owners alike to do the right thing.”