Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke‘s campaign has reported what he called a “death threat” to the FBI after a Republican lawmaker in Texas tweeted at him, “My AR is ready for you.”
That inflammatory remark was from state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who has represented a district outside Houston since 2017 and is reportedly one of the most socially conservative members of the Texas legislature.
Cain, 34, had responded to a tweet from O’Rourke echoing what O’Rourke said in Thursday night’s Democratic debate, when he told moderator David Muir, “If it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield …. hell yes we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-4.”
His campaign tweeted a T-shirt for sale with that same comment on it, to which Cain responded, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” referring to O’Rourke’s legal name. Cain’s tweet was later deleted by Twitter for breaking their rules on “violence and wishing harm against others,” a Twitter spokesperson tells PEOPLE.
O’Rourke responded on his own Twitter account, calling Cain’s tweet a “death threat.”
“Clearly, you shouldn’t own an AR-15—and neither should anyone else,” he wrote.
State Rep. Mary González, a Democrat, also responded to Cain, “The language you are using and the way you are using it is dangerous. We need leaders who want to change our culture of violence.”
An O’Rourke spokeswoman confirms the campaign reported Cain’s tweet to the FBI but declined to comment further or answer questions about which FBI office it was reported to or if they officially alleged the tweet was an illegal threat.
Messages left with Cain were not immediately returned on Friday.
While “true threats” are not protected by the First Amendment, according to the Supreme Court, what actually constitutes such a threat is less clear. However, lower courts have delineated between threats on the one hand and “political hyperbole” on the other.
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
As part of his campaign, O’Rourke has proposed a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons nationwide — which critics have called confiscation that betrays the Second Amendment.
Asked to explain his thinking at Thursday’s debate, O’Rourke spoke about the havoc such guns can wreak, as in West Texas last month where authorities say a gunman used an assault weapon to kill seven people.
“If it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield, 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. … We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” O’Rourke said.
“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,” O’Rourke said.
Responding to O’Rourke’s tweet that Cain had threatened him, Cain wrote back, “You’re a child Robert Francis.”
His official Facebook page soon began promoting new merchandise: a T-shirt with the phrase “Come and Take It.”
“The unofficial motto of Texas has long been, ‘Come And Take It,’ “Cain wrote. “If you don’t understand that Robert Francis, you’ve spent too much time in DC.”