A week after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, thousands of people showed up for a town hall on gun violence in Florida.
The Feb. 21 town hall, which was aired live by CNN, featured survivors and family members of those killed in the deadly high school shooting. A spokeswoman for the NRA also proved up.
It was an emotional event, during which Sen. Marco Rubio( R-Florida) took the bulk of criticism over his financial contributions from the National Rifle Association and his dismissive comments about passing gun control measures.
Rubio was the lone Republican on stage fielding challenges from parents and students of Stoneman Douglas.
The first person to challenge him was Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the shooting. “I want to like you, ” Guttenberg told Rubio. “[ But] your comments the coming week and those of our chairperson have been pathetically weak.”
One by one, students took the stage and confronted Rubio, who often seemed at a loss for words when pressed on whether or not he would support new gun safety measures.
Student Chris Grady: “Would you agree that there is no place in our society for large capability publications? ”
Rubio: I traditionally have not supported it, but “after this and some of the details I learned about it, I am reconsidering that position”https :// t.co/ EjObz2 456 f
— CNN Politics (@ CNNPolitics) February 22, 2018
Stoneman Douglas senior Ryan Deitsch asked Rubio immediately: “Why do we have to be the ones to do this? Why do we have to march on Washington only to save innocent lives? “
Simply set, it was not a great night for Rubio, who was once considered a rising star of Republican politics.
Both on the stage and online, people were eager to point out his failure to hold firearm advocates accountable.
While Rubio conveyed an openness to some handgun security changes, he refused to say he’d stop taking money from the NRA.
Rubio said he would support a bill in the Senate raising the minimum age for buying a rifle to 21, up from the present age of 18.( Federal law already proscribes anyone under 21 from buying a handgun .)
He also said he would support banning “bump stocks, ” which allow semi-automatic weapons to be easily converted to fully automatic weapons. And he generally backed expanding background checks on people purchasing weapons.
However, after Stoneman Douglas junior Cameron Kasky asked Rubio plainly, “Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA? ” the crowd aloud booed Rubio as he avoided dedicating a direct answer.
Rubio has accepted more than$ 3 million in campaign contributions from different groups, the sixth most of any currently sitting senator. But Rubio tried arguing that his support from the NRA wasn’t about fund, responding to Kasky by saying, “People buy into my agenda . … The influence of these groups comes not from fund; the influence comes from the millions of people that agree with the agenda.”
The CNN town hall was clearly an unpleasant experience for Rubio. But more legislators need to hold them.
Some of the students praised Rubio just for showing up, as did his Democratic colleague Sen. Bill Nelson( D-Florida ), who noted that both Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump had declined invitations to appear at the event. But a willingness to actually speak to the people one represents shouldn’t be praised as outstanding — it should be the norm.
The fact that congresspeople may be met with rage and frustration at public-forum events doesn’t mean they should be avoided. It means that they should show up, listen to that fury, and then do anything about it. Elected officers serve at the behest of the public , not just the individuals who give them campaign cash. If more lawmakers follow Rubio’s lead and prove a willingness to engage with “the other side, ” the chances for meaningful change can only improve.
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