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O'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) full-throated endorsement of a mandatory gun buyback proposal has raised alarms among Democrats.

They see the presidential candidate’s proposal as playing into Republican hands and putting Democratic candidates on the back foot. They also say it could be used by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to raise money and members and to fight efforts to impose tougher background checks and other measures that might reduce gun violence.

“I think we should be focused on the stuff that we can get across the finish line, and I think that was a bit of a gift to the NRA,” Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' FBI warns lawmakers of violence from QAnon conspiracy theorists Overnight Energy: Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline | Government watchdog finds failings, but no Trump influence, in clearing of Lafayette Square MORE (D-N.M.) told The Hill.

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The NRA already has unleashed a slew of attack ads this week seizing on O’Rourke’s plan. One such ad dubbed the former Texas congressman “the AR-15 salesman of the month,” suggesting that his comments would prompt a rush to buy the rifle.

Speaking at a news conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday, Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection House Democrat: Republicans 'treating Capitol Police like shit' were 'the most scared' during riot 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday MORE (R-Ky.) railed against O’Rourke’s proposal, calling it “the first step in a full confiscation” of Americans’ firearms and insisting that O’Rourke’s views were representative of Democrats’ broader plans for gun control.

“Let’s give him points for honesty,” Massie said in response to a question posed by The Hill. “That is what nearly every person in there that’s for what they call ‘commonsense gun control’ would prefer. They would prefer to take every single gun back. That is a recipe for destroying this country is what that is.”

O’Rourke made headlines at the September Democratic debate in Texas when he said, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” The remarks followed a shooting in his home city of El Paso, Texas, that left 22 people dead.

Under O’Rourke’s plan, Americans who own assault-style weapons would be required to sell them back to the government. Anyone who refuses or fails to forfeit those firearms would be fined. He has also proposed a licensing system in which gun owners would have to complete firearms safety training and register their weapons.

It’s unclear whether O’Rourke’s plan will help his presidential run, which has been stuck in the mud. His campaign has pointed to recent polling data that suggests support for a mandatory buyback program.

A poll from ABC News and Washington Post released earlier this month showed 52 percent back such a proposal, compared to 44 percent who oppose it. Other surveys from Monmouth UniversityQuinnipiac University and PBS NewsHour released in recent weeks found even higher support for such a program.

Some Democrats think the proposal is good politics for O’Rourke and that it won’t hurt Democrats nationwide.

Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package MORE (D-N.Y.), argued that it would have little effect on Democrats' electoral prospects in 2020, when the party is hoping to capture not only the White House but also a Senate majority.

“[A mandatory buyback program] is where voters happen to be. Voters of both parties do not want or approve of having weapons of war on the streets, in Walmart, in their schools,” he said, adding that the pool of voters Democrats stand to lose from promoting such policies is relatively small.

“There are very few gettable, persuadable voters who are also single-issue gun voters,” Reinish said.

On Capitol Hill, however, Democrats have signaled that they think O’Rourke’s proposal has made it tougher to get a deal on legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar MORE (D-N.Y.) dismissed the plan in a conference call with New York reporters this week but said it should not stop Democrats from moving forward on other measures.

“I don't know of any other Democrat who agrees with Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke considering Texas governor bid: report O'Rourke clarifies remarks, leaves door open to gubernatorial bid O'Rourke says he's not planning on run for Texas governor MORE, but it's no excuse not to go forward,” Schumer said on the call. His comments were first reported by the Albany Times Union.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Manchin is right on the filibuster, but wrong on the PRO Act Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.), who co-authored background checks legislation with Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) in 2013, was more blunt.

“Beto's one human being,” Manchin told reporters on Wednesday. “He gave his own opinion, OK? I think it was very harmful to make it look like all the Democrats. I can tell you one thing: Beto O'Rourke's not taking my guns away from me. You tell Beto that, OK?”  

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said on CNN last week that he would support a “voluntary” buyback program but praised O’Rourke for his candor on the issue.

Others have offered support for a mandatory confiscation program.

“I can only speak for myself, and I liked what he had to say,” said Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyHow ERA is good for the economy Wray suggests limits on FBI social media tracking a 'lesson learned' after Jan. 6 Trump, allies pressured DOJ to back election claims, documents show MORE (D-N.Y.).

“I want to hear people say that we’re going to get the weapons of mass destruction off the streets and out of children’s hands,” she said, adding that “candidates should be talking about their different positions on assault weapons so voters can make the right decision.”

There’s no sign that O’Rourke is backing down from his call for a mandatory assault weapons buyback. At an outdoor town hall in Aurora, Colo., the site of a deadly 2012 mass shooting, on Thursday, he doubled down on his call for such a program.

“To these AK-47s and AR-15s — more than 15 million out there, every one of them a potential instrument of terror — we will buy back each and every single one,” he said.