Buttigieg was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday whether O’Rourke played into Republicans’ hands during last week’s Democratic debate by saying, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
“Yes,” Buttigieg answered, stressing that there is more “agreement among the American people” for other aspects of gun control legislation that the mayor feels are more achievable. He also said President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “at least are pretending to be open to reforms” on gun laws.
O’Rourke responded to video of the exchange on Sunday, criticizing Buttigieg for the stance he made at the interview.
“Leaving millions of weapons of war on the streets because Trump and McConnell are ‘at least pretending to be open to reforms’?” O’Rourke tweeted. “That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place. Let’s have the courage to say what we believe and fight for it.”
Without naming Buttigieg, O’Rourke also brought up the mayor’s comments in a campaign video released later that day.
“On many of these issues, I think that candidates are triangulating, poll-testing, focus group-driving their response,” the former Texas congressman said in the video, again bringing up Buttigieg’s quote about Trump and McConnell. “Well, shit, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell pretending to be interested in something that is literally a life-or-death issue … is simply not enough.”
O’Rourke has been very vocal about putting the issue of gun control at the forefront of his presidential campaign after a shooter killed 22 people on Aug. 3 in his hometown of El Paso. Part of his plan to tackle gun violence includes a mandatory buyback of assault rifles and a voluntary buyback of handguns.
A mandatory buyback involves the government demanding that owners of assault rifles turn in their weapons in exchange for money. The idea also has been supported by fellow 2020 candidates Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Democrats have long argued that passing stricter gun control laws does not mean the government wants to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, making O’Rourke’s “hell, yes” at Thursday’s debate a challenge to his party’s message on guns. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CNN on Friday that he thinks video of O’Rourke’s comment “will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying Democrats are coming for your guns.”
Aside from mandatory gun buybacks, Buttigieg and O’Rourke have voiced support for similar gun control legislation, including universal background checks, “red flag” laws and a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
On Monday in South Carolina, Buttigieg clarified his remarks from the CNN interview by stressing he wants to focus on “what we can do right now” about gun control, “because I don’t think we can wait.”
“I couldn’t care less how Republicans are going to react to it,” the military veteran said, according to a transcript from his campaign, again mentioning universal background checks, red flag laws and a ban on new sales of assault rifles. “We’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything we can to mobilize and engage the American majority that can deliver that, because lives are on the line and we can’t afford to wait.”
Though Buttigieg, who is more moderate than many of his fellow Democratic candidates, doesn’t believe now is the time for mandatory buybacks, his campaign would not directly say whether that applies to voluntary buybacks. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 candidate considered similarly moderate, said after Thursday’s debate that she preferred a voluntary buyback to a mandatory one.
HuffPost recently reported that 52% of all registered voters support a voluntary buyback of assault rifles, including 80% of Democrats; 42% of registered voters support a mandatory program, including 69% of Democrats.