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Rubio is jeered as CNN town hall meeting about Florida school shooting turns angry

By Anthony Man and Larry Barszewski
Sun Sentinel

February 22. 2018 12:33AM
Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky asks Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), right, if he will continue to accept money from the NRA during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)



Fred Guttenberg asks Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a question during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. Guttenberg lost his daughter, Jamie, in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

SUNRISE, Fla. — A massive town hall quickly turned into searing television Wednesday night as a grieving father of a girl killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School angrily confronted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., over his opposition to gun control.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime, 14, was among the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas on Feb 14, made his position clear from the moment he got the microphone.

“I’m pissed,” he said. “Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak.”

Six and a half minutes of dramatic back and forth between Guttenberg and Rubio at “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action,” a two-hour town hall organized and televised by CNN. The network said 7,000 people were at the BB&T Center for the event.

Guttenberg demanded that Rubio look at him and defend his position against banning the weapons like the AR-15, the weapon used by the Stoneman Douglas shooter.

Rubio’s view, that the problem “cannot be solved by gun laws alone,” didn’t sit well with the crowd, which jeered, or Guttenberg.

“If this would have prevented this from happening, I would support it,” Rubio said. Instead, he said he favors action that would prevent a “deranged” person like shooter Nikolas Cruz from acquiring any weapons.

Guttenberg responded by explaining that his daughter was “shot in the back with an assault weapon” while running down the hall at Stoneman Douglas.

It was the first of many confrontations on the stage at which Rubio was forced to defend positions on guns. A student said Rubio shouldn’t take any more political contributions from the National Rifle Association. Another student referred to NRA contributions to Rubio as “blood money.”

And he had a back and forth with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. Deutch, who represents Parkland, said he wants a ban on assault weapons. Rubio said that would have so many loopholes that people bent on doing harm could still acquire weapons that would do the same thing as the gun used at the Stoneman Douglas shooting.

Deutch said that wasn’t a reason to avoid action. He received a standing ovation.

South Floridians streamed into the BB&T Center in Sunrise for a nationally televised town hall meeting a week after the massacre of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“I know change isn’t going to happen overnight,” Stoneman Douglas junior Joshua Alcantara said on his way into the town hall. “I do hope to spread awareness. Hopefully, this will spark something.”

Alcantara believes the solution is probably some combination of gun regulations and better mental health services.

A group of students from neighboring schools have formed a group, Make Us Safe, and are pushing for active shooter drills at every school, more school resource officers, single-points of entry at schools as some ways of making campuses safer.

“We don’t necessarily want to take a political side. We just want to advocate for the safety of students in Broward County,” said Audrey Ramos, a junior at Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs.

Dana Loesch, national spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, also received multiple jeers from the audience during her appearance on stage during the second half of the town hall. Loesch was challenged by Emma Gonzalez, a Stoneman Douglas student who has been an outspoken advocate for gun control, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, and Diane Wolk Rogers, a teacher who survived the shooting.

Loesch referred to Cruz as an “insane monster,” “this monster” and “nuts,” and said he was the kind of person who shouldn’t have any kind of weapon.

Parent Victor Lozada of Coral Springs was looking for “something positive to start us heading in the right direction” from the CNN forum.

Lozada, a gun owner, said he wouldn’t mind seeing the age for gun ownership raised to 26.

“Kids are getting guns way to easy,” said Lozada, whose 17-year-old daughter Jasmine is a junior at Stoneman Douglas and who would have been in the building the gunman shot up, but her teacher was absent and the substitute took them to the auditorium for class.

Jasmine Lozada said she would be happy if even some small changes are put in place.

“I just want my friends to be safe. I don’t want to see my friends dying,” she said.

Parent Rob Brighton isn’t confident there will be change for the better in Florida, which he called “a strong gun rights state.”

“This is a first step if people let their leaders know what they want them to do,” Brighton said.

“Those kids will be scarred for life,” said Brighton, whose daughter Julia is a freshman at Stoneman Douglas and saw three of her classmates murdered in front of her.

Beforehand, CNN showed pictures of President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott and told viewers they were invited to participate in person at the BB&T Center — or remotely from Washington, D.C., or Tallahassee. “Both declined CNN’s invitation to appear,” CNN anchor John Berman said. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., participated.

Rubio headed into the event acutely aware that much of the focus would be on him. Like many Republicans, he’s received substantial NRA support over the years, and like many Republicans, he’s said that gun restrictions wouldn’t be a cure to prevent mass shootings.

Late Tuesday night on Twitter, he criticized an editorial that included him in a list of politicians dodging a discussion of gun control. “Dodging? I’m only GOP at @CNN townhall & I’m fairly certain gun control will come up. So I call BS,” he wrote. He praised as a “truly insightful must read” an article reporting he’s facing criticism from liberals that have long opposed him.

The setting was the arena that’s normally used for hockey games, concerts — and occasional mass political rallies. Candidate Donald Trump held a rally at the BB&T Center in 2016 and candidate Barack Obama held two large rallies at the Sunrise arena in 2008, then called the BankAtlantic Center, including one just a day before the election.


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