Parkland students and community members posed tense questions to lawmakers, law enforcement and a representative from the National Rifle Association (NRA) during a televised town hall. In the wake of a mass shooting that resulted in 17 victims, attendees vocally called for new gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles (video below).
On Feb. 14, a teenage gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle killed 17 people, the majority of them students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Several of the students who survived the massacre have become outspoken advocates for stricter gun regulation.
On Feb. 21, CNN hosted a town hall on gun laws and invited thousands of Parkland residents, including the Douglas High School students, faculty and relatives of the shooting victims. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida fielded queries from attendees while NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel also took questions.
The crowd reactions signaled that a majority of attendees were angry with current gun laws. Rubio faced the most scrutiny as he faced a series of tense interactions with students and parents.
Fred Guttenberg, the bereaved father of shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg, blasted the Republican senator and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Sen. Rubio, I want to like you. Here’s the problem. … Your comments this week and those of our President have been pathetically weak,” Guttenberg told Rubio. “Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week.”
“I’m saying that the problems we are facing here today cannot be solved by gun laws alone,” Rubio responded.
When Deutch proposed banning AR-15 sales to help curb the rate of mass shootings, Rubio voiced dissent.
“It’s the problem that once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in America,” Rubio said.
The audience responded with cheers.
Loesch was also met with disapproval from the crowd. The NRA spokesperson told student Emma Gonzalez that her group supported a bill that would bolster the national background check system.
Following the town hall, Rubio took to social media to assert that the sentiment within the Parkland community was not shared among the majority of the country.
“Banning all semi-auto weapons may have been popular with the audience at #CNNTownHall, but it is a position well outside the mainstream,” Rubio tweeted out.
On Feb. 20, a Quinnipiac University Poll found that 67 percent of registered voters supported a nationwide ban on assault weapons while 29 percent were against.
On Feb. 22, Loesch ridiculed CNN for hosting the town hall. The NRA spokesperson accused the media of having a financial incentive to provide the Parkland community a platform.
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” Loesch said, according to The Washington Post. “I’m not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”