2020 Election
By Tara Law
Updated: September 13, 2019 12:31 AM ET

Beto O’Rourke took a strong stand against assault weapons during the third Democratic debate on Thursday night—following a series of mass shootings, including one in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

When asked by ABC moderator David Muir to confirm that he planned to mandate that Americans sell their guns, the former Texas congressman responded, “hell yes.”

“We’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” O’Rourke said.

Unlike the other candidates, who have advocated banning the further sale of assault weapons, O’Rourke’s plan involves confiscating such weapons under a forced buyback program. Government confiscation of firearms has long been a bogeyman for many gun rights advocates—eliciting comparisons to Nazi Germany and other authoritarian regimes.

O’Rourke, in the debate, said that weapons “designed to kill people on a battlefield” must go, but that he feels both Republicans and Democrats should be included in the conversation about how to eliminate them.

“If the high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body, because it was designed to do that, so you would bleed to death on a battlefield. Not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers,” O’Rourke said.

“When we see that being used against children. And in Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15. And that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour, because so many other people were shot by an AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren’t enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell yes. We’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.”

O’Rourke’s comments appeared to immediately galvanize people on both sides of the gun debate.

A Texas State Rep. Briscoe Cain responded to O’Rourke on Twitter, writing, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.”

Beto O’Rourke’s Twitter account sent out a screenshot of the tweet, writing, “This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn’t own an AR-15—and neither should anyone else.”

At the same time, O’Rourke’s team signaled that the debate had given O’Rourke a boost. Rob Flaherty, O’Rourke’s digital director, tweeted shortly before the debate ended that O’Rourke had the “best hour of fundraising this quarter.” After another hour, he tweeted again, “this hour was better.”

 

By most accounts, AR-15-style rifles are now are the most popular rifles in America, with some sales representing 60% of all rifles sold in the U.S. and some 15 million in civilian hands.

The National Rifle Association was quick to point this out in a tweet minutes after O’Rourke’s comments at the debate. “Banning commonly-owned rifles used lawfully by millions of Americans everyday is not the answer,” the NRA tweeted.

Such weapons have also been used in many of the highest-profile mass shootings in recent years.

O’Rourke actually introduced the plan last month, writing in a USA Today op-ed that, “On this issue, Americans are more connected than we might imagine. We need to stop making assumptions and writing one another off, because only by coming together and finding common ground can we finally meet this moment, and start saving lives.”

O’Rourke has made strengthening gun control laws one of the central focuses of his campaign since Aug. 3, when a gunman killed 22 people in a Walmart in El Paso. He returned to the city soon after the shooting expressed his grief for the victims and to call for gun-control legislation. The gunman used an AK-47-style assault rifle, according to police.

O’Rourke mentioned the shooting during both his opening and closing statements during the third Democratic Debate.

O’Rourke’s Twitter account backed up his message during the debate, sending out tweets calling for assault weapon buybacks. The account tweeted an image of an assault weapon with a grenade launcher—something that’s illegal for civilians to own—with the phrase “Beto has a ban for that“—a riff on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “I have a plan for that.”

Write to Tara Law at tara.law@time.com.

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