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Father of slain student confronts Marco Rubio in an epic exchange

"Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak."

CREDIT: Screenshot/CNN
CREDIT: Screenshot/CNN

Sen. Marco Rubio defended his opposition to an assault weapons ban Wednesday night at a town hall, where he was pushed by the father of a teenage victim of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.

“I want to like you. Here’s the problem. And I’m a brutally honest person so I’m just going to say it up front,” Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg said. “Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak.”

The audience at the town hall responded to Guttenberg’s comment with a standing ovation as Guttenberg went on, saying, “Look at me and tell me. Guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in this school this week. And look at me and tell me you accept it and you will work with us to do something about guns.”

Rubio responded by saying he stood by what he said in the wake of the shooting: An assault weapons ban would not have prevented the killing of Guttenberg’s daughter.

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“I’m saying that the problems we face here today cannot be solved by gun laws alone,” Rubio said, but he was interrupted by Guttenberg, who asked again, “Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids?”

“Of course they were,” Rubio said. The senator went on to say that he does not believe you should be able to purchase a rifle — he didn’t clarify whether he meant only assault rifles or all rifles — at the age of 18 and that he would support banning bump stocks, devices that modify semi-automatic weapons so that they can fire at the rate of automatic weapons.

Additionally, Rubio said he would support changing the background check system so that it “includes more information than it includes now.”

But, he went on, addressing Guttenberg, “I think what you’re asking about is the assault weapons ban.”

“Yes, sir,” Guttenberg said.

“So let me be honest with you about that one,” Rubio said. “If I believed that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it.”

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Guttenberg interrupted the senator, saying, “Senator Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was shot in the back with an assault weapon, the weapon of choice.”

“Okay? It is too easy to get,” Guttenberg went on, to raucous applause. “It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can’t stand with everybody in this building and say that, I’m sorry.”

Rubio responded, saying that he did believe that what Guttenberg was saying was true, but that, despite that, he couldn’t support an assault weapons ban. His reasoning? Because the assault weapons ban would only ban about 200 types of firearms, while more than 2,000 other firearms that are, as Rubio put it, “identical” would still be legal.

“Are you saying you will start with the 200 and work your way up?” Guttenberg asked. “It’s a place to start. We can do that.”

But, of course, that’s not what Rubio meant. Rubio argued that after New York passed an assault weapons ban, people got around it in “15 seconds.”

“So we don’t start,” Guttenberg said.

“My belief remains that rather than continue to try to chase every loophole that’s created — that’s why it failed in ’94, that’s why they’re getting around it in California, it’s how they get around it in New York — is we should make sure that dangerous criminals, people who are deranged cannot buy any gun of any kind,” Rubio said. “That’s what I believe a better answer will be.”

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What Rubio didn’t note, of course, is that New York restricted assault weapons in 2013, and in 2016, shootings in New York fell to their lowest number since the 1990s.

“Okay,” Guttenberg said, ending their back and forth. “Your answer speaks for itself.”