Survivors, Families, Lawmakers Gather for Town Hall After Parkland Tragedy

"You're not standing up for them until you say, 'I want less weapons!" the Broward County's sheriff said

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, along with other Florida leaders and the NRA, was held to the fire by angry students, teachers and parents who are demanding stronger gun-control measures at a town hall after the shooting rampage that claimed 17 lives at a Florida high school.

But Rubio, the lone Republican at CNN's "Stand Up" town hall Wednesday night, did say he would support laws barring those 18 and under from buying guns, support changing the background checks system and getting rid of bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic guns to mimic fully automatic fire.

One of those confronting the Florida senator was Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed on Feb. 14 with 16 others. Rubio was the only Republican at the nationally broadcast gathering after Florida's GOP Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump declined invitations to appear at the event in Sunrise, Florida.

Guttenberg told Rubio his comments about the shooting "and those of your president this week have been pathetically weak."

People stood up and cheered Guttenberg as he challenged Rubio to tell him the truth, to acknowledge that "guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids."

Guttenberg added, "And tell me you will work with us to do something about guns."

"I absolutely believe that in this country if you are 18 years of age you should not be able to buy a rifle and I will support a law that takes that right away," Rubio responded.

He said he supports raising the legal age to buy assault rifles to 21 and expanding databases in background checks. 

However, Rubio said that the problems laid bare by the shooting rampage "cannot be solved by gun laws alone," drawing jeering whistles from the crowd. He said that an assault weapons ban would not be effective because more than 2,000 weapons similar to ones used in U.S. mass shootings would remain available. He said if he thought a ban "would have prevented this from happening, I would have supported it."

That drew jeers. Visibly angry, Guttenberg responded: "That is a weapon of war."

Sen. Bill Nelson and Congressman Ted Deutch, both Democrats from Florida, also were present on a dais.

"The folks in our community don't want words. They don't want thoughts and prayers. They don't want discussions. They want action. And we owe it to them to provide it," Deutch said during opening remarks.

Nelson said he grew up on a ranch and hunted all his life.

"I still hunt with my son but an AK-47 and an AR-15 is not for hunting, it's for killing," said Nelson to applause.

Ryan Schachter, whose brother Alex, was fatally gunned down at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was among those questioning the lawmakers.

"I'm supposed to go back to school in the upcoming week," said Schachter. "Me and my friends worry we are going to be murdered in our classrooms."

He asked: "What reassurances can you give me and what specifically are you going to do to make sure we don't have this fear?" 

"As a starter, next week when we go back to Washington, we're going to introduce legislation to make sure that assault weapons are illegal in every part of this country," Deutch responded. "But that's not ... going to help you when you go back to school."

Student Cameron Kasky did not mince words telling Rubio, "It's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz" before asking squarely, "Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?"

The room erupted in cheers as Rubio replied that people buy into his agenda and that he supports laws to keep guns out of the hands of deranged people, adding that the NRA represents the interests of countless of Americans.

Rubio said he does not support arming teachers and Nelson agreed, saying Trump's suggestion on arming them was "a terrible idea."

Some who spoke criticized the lawmakers for not taking enough action to prevent tragedies such as the shooting in which the 17 students were killed.

One shared the sentiment: How much blood will it take for legislative change?

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel took on NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, claiming she was not truthful in suggesting she, as part of the NRA, was fighting for the students affected by the tragedy.

"You just told this group of people that you are standing up for them. You're not standing up for them until you say, 'I want less weapons!" Israel said.

Loesch agreed that the accused gunman in the Parkland shooting "shouldn't have been able to get a firearm."

"He should have been barred from getting a firearm," Loesch said. "People who are crazy should not be able to get firearms. People who are dangerous to themselves and other individuals should not be able to obtain a firearm."

NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre continued the NRA's defense Thursday morning, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"All must come together ... to harden their schools, ... including effective trained armed security that will absolutely protect every innocent child in this country. And that has to happen now," he added.

Shortly before the town hall event opened, Israel spoke to the cheering audience, drawing them to their feet as he exhorted them to press on for stricter gun controls.

Israel declared the U.S. has had enough of deadly shootings and that he was personally saddened to have to go through the crime scene of a "horrific killer" 30 minutes after the attack last week. He said the young people should hold lawmakers accountable for making their schools and other community places safer or they won't be re-elected.

"Never again!" he declared of the Parkland attack, exhorting the young people to press on: "America's watching you ... there will be change."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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