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O'Rourke Promises To 'Take Your AR-15,' But Americans Are Split On Buybacks

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke has promised a mandatory buyback program for assault-style weapons. But public support for such a program is divided.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke has promised a mandatory buyback program for assault-style weapons. But public support for such a program is divided.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke gave a staunch defense of his gun control plan during Thursday's Democratic presidential primary debate, saying that as president, he would prioritize mandatory buybacks of assault-style weapons.

Quoting the candidate's past comment about selling back AR-15s and AK-47s, moderator David Muir asked O'Rourke: "Are you proposing taking away their guns? And how would this work?"

O'Rourke answered, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

Here's more of what he said:

"I am, if it's a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield. 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 that you would bleed to death on a battlefield and not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers.

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 that 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 our fellow Americans anymore."

The response drew loud applause in the debate hall. His campaign quickly tweeted to promote his plan and ask supporters to donate to his campaign:

Americans are broadly split on their support for a mandatory buyback program of assault-style weapons.

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 46% of Americans are against Congress passing legislation for such a program and 45% are in favor. And the divide in support splits along partisan lines, with Republicans and independent voters opposing the idea.

More striking is the divide between women and men: 55% of women think Congress should pass legislation creating a mandatory buyback program, and 61% of men are against it.

There is more consensus on other initiatives, according to the poll, such as laws that would screen for the types of people who could use a gun.

O'Rourke's campaign has taken a sharper focus since a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso, Texas, last month.

His plan to combat gun violence links guns and white nationalism, and he told the NPR Politics Podcast last month that law enforcement's top priority should be white nationalism and white supremacy.

"With 40,000 gun violence deaths in this country, not all of them are connected to white nationalism, white supremacy or white terrorism," he said. "But ... you do have to connect the hatred, the racism, the president's words and actions with the accessibility of those weapons that afford someone the means to conduct this kind of terror in this country."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brandon Carter is an assistant producer on NPR's Washington Desk. He manages the NPR Politics social media accounts, writes and produces stories for the web and writes for the NPR Politics weekly newsletter.