HOUSTON — During Thursday’s Democratic debate, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke renewed his call for the buyback of military-style assault weapons. That message was met with what O’Rourke called a “death threat” from one Texas Republican lawmaker.

State Rep. Briscoe Cain, a tea party conservative from the Houston area, tweeted “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” using the El Paso Democrat’s given first and middle names, in response to O’Rourke’s “hell yes” proclamation that “we’re going to take your AR-15.”

O’Rourke’s tweet parroted a statement he made in Thursday’s debate at Texas Southern University, where he was asked about his stance.

At about 11 p.m., O’Rourke said Cain’s tweet was a death threat in a tweet of his own.

“Clearly, you shouldn’t own an AR-15 — and neither should anyone else,” he said.

Cain tweeted back: “You’re a child Robert Francis”

On Thursday after the debate ended, O’Rourke was asked about Cain’s comment during a press gaggle.

“I hadn’t heard of him,” O’Rourke said after being told about Cain’s tweet.

“At the end of the day, I believe that Briscoe Cain is going to follow the law,” he said. “And we have a very deliberate democratic process to adopt these laws, and I expect us to go through it. But I expect this process for the first time to not be dominated by the NRA, to include the voices of Moms who demand action, students who are marching for our lives, and every day Americans who are sick and tired of what’s happening.”

Cain’s original tweet was removed from Twitter and Twitter confirmed the tweet violated its rules.

O’Rourke’s campaign reported the tweet to the FBI, the former congressman told CNN Friday morning.

“Anytime you have somebody threatening to use violence against somebody in this country to resolve a political issue, really for any reason, that’s a matter for law enforcement,” O’Rourke said.

The FBI’s national press office did not confirm whether they were investigating the tweet.

“To protect the privacy of people who contact the FBI, we cannot confirm or deny any particular contact or the potential existence of an investigation,” a statement from the FBI states. “As a general matter, though, allegations of criminal conduct are reviewed by the FBI for their merit, with consideration of any applicable federal laws. When warranted, the FBI takes appropriate action.”

Cain, who was elected to represent House District 128 in 2016, is a member of the Texas Freedom Caucus, which is made up of a group of of House tea party conservatives. He supports policies like “limited government, less regulation, increased transparency, the value of life, and traditional family values,” according to his website.

Cain took to Facebook on Friday, where he said the tweet was a reference to the motto “Come And Take It.”

“If you don’t understand that Robert Francis, you’ve spent too much time in DC,” he wrote in the post.

Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, shared that post on Twitter and came to Cain’s defense.

“My friend (Briscoe Cain) was suspended from Twitter, so I am sharing his latest post,” he wrote. “His original tweet was not a threat, but a reference to the “Come And Take It” motto. What is scary is what some people can justify doing to him over a Tweet!”

Cain said in a text that he was suspended from Twitter. A photo he provided stated he had limited use of the account, including no tweets for 12 hours.

When asked if the account had been suspended, a spokesperson for the social media company said it had not and pointed to a section of Twitter’s website that states “if a Tweet was found to be in violation of our rules, and has yet to be deleted by the person who Tweeted it, we will hide it behind a notice. The account will remain locked until the Tweet is removed.”

Other Texas lawmakers were among those to respond to the exchange on social media.

“For everyone new to Texas politics… None of us are really surprised by Briscoe’s tweet,” wrote Texas Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “Normal reaction in #txlege would be roughly: “Yep. He does that. He don’t know no better. Whatcha gonna do?”

It also elicited a response from Democratic Rep. Mary González, who is part of the El Paso delegation.

“In case you forgot, people were just killed in El Paso,” she said in the tweet. “People were murdered. 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.”

USA Today staff writer Rebecca Morin contributed to this report.

Eleanor Dearman covers the Texas Capitol and politics for the USA TODAY Network Austin Bureau and the El Paso Times.

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