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(CNN) —  

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday reacted to criticism of his proposed mandatory gun-buyback program for assault-style rifles with a defiant call to not let the National Rifle Association “set the terms of the debate.”

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are trying to find a way forward on gun legislation that Republicans and Democrats have been critical of O’Rourke’s proposal and rhetoric around guns. The argument is that his comments feed into long-held conservative talking points that opening the door to any changes on gun laws – even something as minor as expanding background checks – could lead Democrats to eventually force people to give up their guns.

Speaking with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Prime Time,” O’Rourke said he “might buy that argument” if “they had made some progress already.”

“Many of those Democrats are complicit in what we see right now. I mean, the Republicans are the most obstinate and the most obstructionist and the most in the pockets of the NRA, but it’s been a bipartisan problem that the Centers for Disease Control couldn’t even study gun violence, that here we are in 2019 and we still don’t have universal background checks or ‘red flag’ laws or we allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, even though it did so much good and saved so many lives,” he said.

“So this old policy and tactic of relying on polls and allowing the NRA to set the terms of the debate no longer works for me and no longer works for this country,” O’Rourke said. He added that “the American people are there” for gun violence legislation and now “that urgency just needs to be reflected in their leadership in Congress. It will be reflected when I’m in the White House.”

O’Rourke has made gun legislation a key aspect of his campaign since a mass shooting at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, left 22 dead last month.

While his proposal raises a number of legal and logistical questions, O’Rourke said Wednesday that he was “willing to fight” for it “all the way to the end.”

“No one in this country, including owners of AR-15s and AK-47s, think that what is happening right now is OK,” he said.

Earlier this month, O’Rourke told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that “thoughts and prayers” have “done nothing” to curb rampant shootings in the country.

“This is f***ed up,” he said.

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Yahya Abou-Ghazala contributed to this report.