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

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Bill Gates visits Capitol to discuss climate change with new Senate caucus 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 BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP 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 JohnsonImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP Johnson: Whistleblower 'exposed things that didn't need to be exposed' Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony 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 ToomeyNSA 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 WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns 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."