Marco Rubio was repeatedly humiliated at CNN's gun control town hall

The Florida Senator was confronted by angry parents and children demanding that he stand up to the gun lobby

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 22, 2018 8:20AM (EST)

Marco Rubio (AP/Susan Walsh)
Marco Rubio (AP/Susan Walsh)

On Wednesday night, CNN hosted a town hall featuring survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, their parents — and even an NRA spokeswoman — to talk about the possibility of real solutions to gun violence. Unfortunately, they also invited Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who tried to offer as few solutions as possible.

That didn't go unnoticed.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed at the Parkland shooting, denounced Rubio's response to the tragedy as "pathetically weak" and demanded, "Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in this school this week," according to The Washington Post. Rubio's response to Guttenberg did not satisfy the audience, with the Post noting that it seemed consistent with his reputation as "a scripted and risk-averse politician."

Although Rubio made minor concessions on certain positions — he broke with President Donald Trump on the idea of arming school teachers, supported raising the minimum age for purchasing an assault rifle and considered restricting the size of magazines for firearms — throughout the night he was still "jeered and booed by the crowd, buffeted by tough questions," according to Politico.

Perhaps his most humiliating moment occurred when he tried to discredit the concept of an assault weapons ban by arguing, "Once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semiautomatic rifle that’s sold in America." This comment, which Rubio seemed to anticipate would help the audience see his perspective, instead meant the crowd "erupted in wild cheers," according to New York Magazine.

Hours after the debate, Rubio retweeted a comment from National Review columnist David French that denounced the crowd response as "cheers for the revocation of a civil liberty that’s essential to our constitutional republic," arguing that their position was "well outside the mainstream."

In fact, 50 percent of Americans support a ban on assault weapons, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.

Even media outlets that don't normally cover politics took note of Rubio's inability to master the situation. When Cameron Kasky, one of the students who survived the Parkland shooting, confronted Rubio about accepting donations from the NRA, Entertainment Weekly noted that "Kasky’s question drew cheers and applause, but Rubio didn’t answer directly."

One point for which Rubio did receive some credit, however, was the mere fact that he was there. Both Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican and gun control opponent, declined CNN's invitation to appear at the town hall event.

"Rubio showed up for the CNN town hall knowing there would be a heated debate on guns and he'd likely get booed often," CNN acknowledged after the debate. "He answered questions directed to him and defended his stances on the gun debate, and many of the event's participants, even those who seemed frustrated with his answers, thanked him for being there."

One student at the Parkland high school made a similar point.

"A lot more than can be said for our so-called president and governor. We need you and your colleagues on both sides to come together with us and find a compromise if we are ever to solve this epidemic," Chris Grady, one of the Parkland shooting survivors, told Rubio, according to The New York Times.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Cnn Town Hall Donald Trump Florida School Shooting Florida Shooting Marco Rubio Nra Parkland Shooting