Beto O’Rourke was asked if he would confiscate certain guns. His answer was unambiguous.

"Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke responds to a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Beto O'Rourke responds to a question Thursday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. –David J. Phillip / AP

Beto O’Rourke isn’t mincing words.

The former Texas congressman, who has become a passionate advocate for gun reform in the wake of several mass shootings in his home state, was asked about his unique support for a mandatory buyback program for assault-style weapons during the third Democratic presidential debate Thursday night.

No, not just a ban, which all of the Democratic primary candidates support, but a law requiring Americans to sell back those military-style rifles to the federal government.

“You know that critics call this confiscation,” ABC News anchor David Muir said. “Are you proposing taking away their guns? And how would this work?”

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“I am, if it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield,” O’Rourke said to applause.

West Texas witnessed two mass shootings last month, one in O’Rourke’s home city of El Paso and another four hours east in the cities of Midland and Odessa. Both involved semi-automatic, assault-style rifles. Somewhat rambling, O’Rourke went on during the debate to emotionally describe the impact that such weapons have on a person when shot.

“If the high impact, high velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body, because it was designed to do that, so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield and not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers,” he said. “When we see that being used against children, and in Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl, who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour, because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren’t enough ambulances to get to them in time.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke continued to even louder cheers. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”

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O’Rourke added that he went to a gun show after he first announced his position and found “some common ground” with the people buying and selling those weapons.

“Folks who said, ‘I would willingly give that up, cut it to pieces. I don’t need this weapon to hunt, to defend myself,”’ O’Rourke recalled.

“It is a weapon of war,” he said. “Let’s do the right thing, but let’s bring everyone in America into the conversation, Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, and non-gun owners alike.”

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that a mandatory buyback for assault weapons was the least popular gun safety reform idea, compared to proposals like universal background checks, firearm licensing, and assault weapons bans. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is wholly unpopular. Voters were split on the idea, with 46 percent supporting the buyback program and 49 percent opposing it. Among Democrats, 71 percent supported the proposal — compared to 47 percent of independents and 18 percent of Republicans.

Multiple times during the debate Thursday, other candidates praised O’Rourke for his unapologetic urgency on the gun issue. And on Twitter, his campaign team tripled — and quadrupled — down on his forceful answer with fundraising appeals and even T-shirts.

Riffing on the “plan for that” campaign mantra of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, they wrote in one tweet with an image of an assault-style rifle: “Beto has a ban for that.”

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