(*This post has been updated to clarify Toomey’s position on O’Rourke’s comments)
Confiscating assault weapons, as suggested by Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, is an “awful and extreme idea,” that would derail “commonsense … efforts” to pass gun-safety reform on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said Friday.
O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, enraged gun rights advocates during Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Houston when he pledged to ban — and confiscate — AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons that have been the weapon of choice in mass shootings across the nation.
In a Twitter post, Toomey, one of the lone Senate GOP voices on gun reform, said O’Rourke’s “rhetoric undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts, like expanding background checks.”
I agree with @ChrisCoons. This is an awful and extreme idea. 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. https://t.co/lRmy8SHc47
— Senator Pat Toomey (@SenToomey) September 13, 2019
Toomey’s post came in response to comments from U.S. Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., who told CNN that he doesn’t agree with O’Rourke’s comments, and suggested that they will be played at gun rights rallies for years. Toomey has publicly opposed an assault weapons ban.
Coons tells @PoppyHarlowCNN that Beto O'Rourke's comments about taking away people's AR-15's will be played at gun rallies for years to come, and that he does not agree with the policy.
— Lauren Fox (@FoxReports) September 13, 2019
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said.
“We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” the former Texas congressman said during the third Democratic presidential debate, hosted by ABC News.
O’Rourke’s answer came after he described talking to a mother in Odessa, Texas, who, he said, watched her 15-year-old daughter bleed to death “over the course of an hour” after being shot by an AR-15.
As The Guardian reports, O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, and who has struggled to gain ground in primary polling, “endorsed a ban on the possession of certain military-style rifles shortly after the mass shooting last month in his home town of El Paso, Texas, in which 22 people died and dozens were injured. He has specifically called for a mandatory government buyback of AR-15s, following Australia’s gun control model.”
On Friday, Twitter removed a post by Briscoe Cain, a Republican state lawmaker from Texas, who wrote “My AR-15 is ready for you, Robert Francis.” The social media site said the language violated its rules against making violent threats, the Guardian reported.
On Twitter, O’Rourke, whose full name is Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, labeled Cain’s language a “death threat.”
This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn't own an AR-15—and neither should anyone else. pic.twitter.com/jsiZmwjMDs
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 13, 2019
In an answering Tweet, Cain, a 34-year-old attorney, called O’Rourke “a child.”
You’re a child Robert Francis https://t.co/rU3WoYQFQV
— 𝐁𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐜𝐨𝐞 𝐂𝐚𝐢𝐧 (@BriscoeCain) September 13, 2019
Toomey is co-sponsoring legislation, with Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, that would expand background checks for all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows, online sales, and in classified ads.
Gun-control advocates have criticized the bill, saying it has too many loopholes. They’ve urged Toomey to drop that bill and instead throw his support behind a broader measure passed by the majority Democrat U.S. House earlier this year.
Speaking to reporters in his Capitol Hill office earlier this week, Toomey said the House-passed bill doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate or become law.
As the Capital-Star’s Robin Bravender reported earlier this week, Toomey has spent the last six years advocating for a version of background check legislation that has garnered some Republican support, but still fell short of passing the GOP-led Senate in recent years.
Toomey said he’s been talking to Trump, who’s open to the idea. He’s spoken to the president about a half a dozen times over the past month, Bravender reported.