Gun rights activists are reveling in Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke’s call to “take” popular semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 from people, saying it finally revealed Democrats’ true intentions and will further complicate Congress’ push for new gun control laws in the wake of mass shootings.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said he was “ecstatic” when he initially heard Mr. O’Rourke’s vow to confiscate firearms.
“My initial thoughts were I was glad he was openly honest about what Democrats want, because we’ve been saying for years that they want to confiscate guns, but now they said it in their own words,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “And my first thought was, ‘I’m really glad he said it [because] now we can make them eat it.’ “
The 2020 Democratic presidential contender has aggressively pushed for a mandatory buyback of military-style rifles or “assault weapons,” stepping up his call after recent mass shootings in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left more than 30 people dead.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Mr. O’Rourke, a former congressman, said during a Democratic presidential debate this month. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
The National Rifle Association responded by promoting an online petition to “Tell Beto NO to Gun confiscation.”
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said there were thousands of visits to the page within a matter of hours.
He called Mr. O’Rourke’s comments a “rare moment of candor.”
“It was blurted out by a failing candidate seeking his party’s nomination for president,” Mr. Arulanandam said. “It’s what gun owners in this country have known, have feared, and now they know for sure that that’s what these gun control advocates want to do.”
Other 2020 contenders such Sens. Kamala D. Harris of California and Cory A. Booker of New Jersey also have embraced the idea of a mandatory buyback and ban of certain kinds of military-style, semiautomatic firearms.
“They’ve just laid their cards on the table for the world to see,” Mr. Arulanandam said.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the comments were “absolutely” helpful to gun rights advocates wary of growing talk on Capitol Hill of instituting new controls as a response to the recent shootings.
“Hopefully, he woke some people up, because in the past when we said look, you know, this is a slippery slope towards gun confiscation the other side would laugh, no, no, no — we don’t want to take your guns. No, no, no,” Mr. Van Cleave said. “And this confirms what we knew all along — yeah, you do.”
Mr. O’Rourke’s call for gun confiscations is exactly what Democrats dream of in secret but will rarely admit publicly, said Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America.
“And his gun confiscation plans can only be accomplished if Congress passes a Universal Background Check law which requires the effective registration of every gun buyer in America,” Mr. Pratt said. “These policies are a recipe for electoral disaster, as no presidential candidate has ever won the White House while actively campaigning for gun control.”
President Trump also weighed in, saying Mr. O’Rourke’s comments made it harder to strike a deal on the issue.
“Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal. Convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away. Will continue forward!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Even pro-gun control Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, have pushed back on Mr. O’Rourke’s comments and said they’re not helping the already sensitive discussions between the White House and Capitol Hill on potential new gun controls.
“I don’t know of any other Democrat who agrees with Beto O’Rourke, but it’s no excuse not to go forward,” Mr. Schumer told New York reporters on a conference call.
In response to the criticism, Mr. O’Rourke has not shied away from his aggressive call and even said he’d be open to expanding his proposal to cover more kinds of guns.
“Ask Chuck Schumer what he’s been able to get done,” Mr. O’Rourke recently told reporters in Colorado. “We still don’t have background checks. Didn’t have them when he was in the majority, either. So the game that he’s played, the politics that he’s pursued have given us absolutely nothing and have produced a situation where we lose nearly 40,000 of our fellow Americans every year.”
Mr. O’Rourke pointed to a recent poll that said 49% of people in his home state said they support a mandatory buyback program of “assault” weapons for payment, compared to about 29% who said they were opposed.
“What he may not know, but what I hear loud and clear because I’m traveling the country listening to my fellow Americans, is that the people are there,” he said.
Still, Mr. O’Rourke’s words will likely serve to fire up bases on both sides of the issue, said Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition.
“American gun owners are not going to let this go,” Mr. Combs said. “We’re going to carve it in granite, hang it around their necks like an albatross, and make them all live with it for decades.”