Democratic senator warns O'Rourke AR-15 pledge could haunt party for years

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsRepublicans turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill MORE (D-Del.) on Friday warned that Beto O’Rourke’s pledge that the government will confiscate semiautomatic AR-15 rifles will become a rallying cry for gun rights groups for years to come and haunt the Democratic Party far into the future.

“I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying that Democrats are coming for your guns,” Coons, an ally of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFox News polls: Trump trails Biden in Ohio, Arizona and Wisconsin Kelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Obama calls for police reforms, doesn't address Trump MORE in the Democratic race, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in an interview.

O’Rourke, a former member of Congress from Texas, received loud applause at the Democratic debate in Houston on Thursday when he declared: “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.”

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O’Rourke’s statement confirms the fears of many Republicans and gun rights advocates who say the ultimate goal of the gun control movement is government confiscation of firearms.

“When you really understand what the endgame of the left is, it’s literally mandatory buybacks or as I call it: confiscation. This is a step-by-step process for them,” Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility GOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near MORE (R-Wis.) told The Hill Thursday when asked about the debate over expanded background checks for firearms sales.

Coons, who is working with Republicans to pass more modest gun control measures, scrambled on Friday to contain the fallout from O’Rourke’s statement.

“I don’t think having our presidential candidates, like Congressman O’Rourke did, say that we’re going to try to take people’s guns against their will is a wise policy or political move,” Coons said.

Asked if O’Rourke’s statement was irresponsible or hurt the party, Coons said, “we’ll have to see.”

Coons has sponsored a bill with Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general MORE (R-Pa.) that would require law enforcement officials to be notified when someone prohibited from purchasing a gun attempts to buy one.

Toomey on Friday praised Coons for calling out O’Rourke.

“I agree with @ChrisCoons. This is an awful and extreme idea,” Toomey tweeted in response to O’Rourke’s statement. “Thankfully, there’s not enough support in Congress to do it. But this rhetoric undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts, like expanding background checks."