Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeEleven interesting races to watch in 2022 Cruz bullish on his 2024 chances: 'The runner-up is almost always the next nominee' Abrams and O'Rourke give Democrats a chance and women a choice MORE is dismissing criticism of his call for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons, saying it is an example of lawmakers' "screwed up" priorities.
O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman, faced widespread pushback for saying "hell yes we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47" during last Thursday's debate, using rhetoric Republicans typically use to attack Democrats.
NBC's Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddCarville advises Democrats to 'quit being a whiny party' Clyburn says he 'wholeheartedly' endorses Biden's voting rights remarks Romney: I never got a call from White House to discuss voting rights MORE said on Sunday there's "a lot of hand wringing about what you said, agreeing with your sentiment but concern that the rhetoric is going to actually backfire."
WATCH: Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke says that the reaction to his promise to take away AR-15’s shows how “screwed up the priorities in Washington D.C. are” #MTP #IfItsSunday@BetoORourke: “I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling, or the fear or the NRA." pic.twitter.com/snaIRMQABK— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) September 15, 2019
"I think this just shows how screwed up the priorities in Washington, D.C. are," O'Rourke responded on "Meet the Press."
"What’s truly awful is a 17-month-old baby shot in the face with an AR-15 as happened in Odessa. What's truly awful is 22 people killed in a Walmart the Saturday before schools starts that next Monday buying their school supplies, innocent of any crime or any threat to this country — in fact living in one of the safest cities in American, El Paso, Texas — hunted down by their ethnicity with a weapon that was designed for use on a battlefield," O'Rourke added.
O'Rourke began advocating for a mandatory buyback program after a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso that killed 22 people. That incident was followed by a mass shooting the next day in Dayton, Ohio in which 10 people were killed. Another mass shooting a couple of weeks later in West Texas killed eight people.
O'Rourke on Sunday said that after the El Paso shooting he could "no longer accept" that an assault weapons sales ban would be enough.
"If we agree they're dangerous to sell...then we also have to agree these are instruments of terror that have to be brought back home or they're going to be used against us," he said.
Doctors who treated the victims in El Paso said "these are wounds of war," O'Rourke said.
"I refuse to accept that and I refuse 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.
"We’ve got to do something about it," he said, noting there are 40,000 gun deaths in America each year, "and I'm proposing that we do something about it."