Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke dismissed criticism and "hang-wringing" about his much-discussed debate statement that "Hell yes" he wants to confiscate assault weapons, saying those concerns "just show you how screwed up the priorities in Washington, D.C., are."
"I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling or the fear or the NRA," O'Rourke told "NBC's Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd on Sunday. "That has purchased the complicity and silence of members of Congress."
CHUCK TODD: There's a lot of hand wringing about what you said, agreeing with your sentiment but concerned that the rhetoric is going to actually backfire.< What do you say?
BETO O'ROURKE: I think this just shows you how screwed up the priorities in Washington, DC are. I think what's truly awful is a 17-month-old baby shot in the face with an AR-15, as happened in Odessa. What's truly awful is 22 people killed in a Walmart the Saturday before school starts that next Monday, buying their school supplies, innocent of any crime or any threat to this country, in fact, living in one of the safest cities in America, El Paso, Texas, hunted down by their ethnicity with a weapon that was designed for use on a battlefield. Talking to those doctors and trauma room surgeons who treated those victims in El Paso, they said, "These are wounds of war." That high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hit their systems, just shredded everything inside of them. I refuse to accept that. And I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling or the fear or the NRA. That has purchased the complicity and silence of members of Congress. And this weak response to a real tragedy in America, 40,000 gun deaths a year, we've got to do something about it. And I'm proposing that we do something about it.
CHUCK TODD: Explain your change of heart. You describe -- to be a bit harsh here, what you just said about, sort of, the weakness of Washington, you used to be one of those members of Congress who used to advocate this very careful wording on guns. Where did you go wrong?
BETO O'ROURKE: No, I reject that. I reject that, Chuck. So in Texas, in every single one of the 254 counties, no matter how red or rural or big and blue, I was showing up, talking about an assault weapons ban in that state, a proud, gun-owning state. Because I also know it's a proud, responsible gun-owning state. And folks said, "That is the third rail of politics in Texas. You can never talk about it." So I've been talking about these issues throughout the state. But you're right. On August 3rd, in El Paso, with 22 people killed, dozens more grievously injured, I could no longer accept that that would be enough. Because there are still more than 10 million assault weapons, weapons of war, out on the street. And if we agree that they're dangerous to sell, and that we should stop selling them, then we also have to agree that these are instruments of terror that are still out there and have to be brought back home, or they are going to be used against us. And that's what we've seen in El Paso, in Midland, Odessa, in Sutherland Springs. Those are just three communities in Texas.
CHUCK TODD: You heard, at one time, I believe, it was Vice President Biden offer it up and he said, "Don’t forget the Constitution." So let me ask it this way. What is your interpretation of what the Second Amendment allows and what the Second Amendment does not allow?
BETO O'ROURKE: I'll put it this way. This is something that we're able to do through the Commerce Clause. And this is something that is not prevented from – wouldn’t prevent the United States from doing by the Second Amendment. So, this is constitutionally sound. This is absolutely necessary, if we care about the lives of our fellow Americans. And here's something I want to tell you. Going to a gun show in Conway, Arkansas, stopping at a Buc-ee's in Katy, Texas, yesterday, listening to owners of AR-15s, Republicans, who come up to me and say, "You know what? I own one of these guns. Don't need it to hunt, don't need it for self-defense. This is the right thing to do. I would gladly give it up, because I also have kids who are in school. And I fear for their safety," or, "I have grandkids. I want to make sure that this country is safe for them." So not only is this constitutionally sound, I think there's support beyond the Democratic Party, to include Republicans and Independents, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, to do the right thing.
CHUCK TODD: Very quickly, I am curious that -- you've gotten a lot more attention for saying what you did. You were supporting mandatory buybacks before. But now, you're getting this focus, because of how you said it. There's been some coverage of you, recently, going, "Hey, Congressman O'Rourke's in his blank-it stage," you know, referring to the fact that you will curse, occasionally, on the stump. Do you find it a bit frustrating that it takes, sometimes, theatrics to get the attention of the press corps, to get the attention of the American public?
BETO O'ROURKE: I think what people want us to do, and what I'm trying to do in this campaign, is just to see things as clearly as I possibly can and speak as honestly as I possibly can without triangulating or polling or you know, focus group testing what the message is. Just, just call this out for what it is, absolutely wrong, unacceptable, that we have people killed in this way in our communities and people living in fear in America today. I reject that fear. And I want to go forward with a bold, ambitious proposal to make sure that we're safe in our communities, safe in our homes, safe in America again.