Beto O’Rourke’s “hell yes” moment at the Democratic presidential debate is scrambling his party’s message on guns, the Associated Press reports. Democrats have long said their support of gun control laws does not mean taking away law-abiding citizens’ firearms. They are struggling to square that message with their presidential contender’s full-throated call on national TV for confiscating assault rifles. “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore,” the former Texas congressman declared Thursday. O’Rourke’s hometown El Paso was the site of a shooting last month that killed 22 people, and he has put the issue of gun violence at the center of his campaign.
Some fellow Democrats chastised him and fretted that his remarks may have made things harder for gun control supporters as they negotiate with President Donald Trump on legislation to respond to recent mass shootings. “I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying Democrats are coming for your guns,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told CNN. “I don’t think a majority of the Senate or the country is going to embrace mandatory buybacks. We need to focus on what we can get done.” Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation said, “This is what their goal is. We’ve always said it, now they’re saying it.” Said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), “This rhetoric undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts, like expanding background checks.” None of the other nine candidates in the debate contradicted O’Rourke on his proposal to require owners of the two popular styles of assault rifles to sell them to the government.