Students, parents, educators, politicians, and the NRA engage in a heated discussion on gun violence

Screenshot via CNN
  • Students, parents, educators, and the National Rifle Association gathered under one roof Wednesday night to talk about how best to move forward, one week after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, claimed 17 lives.
  • The town-hall-style event hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper follows days of heated discourse over guns in America.
  • President Donald Trump held a listening session about school shootings earlier Wednesday but declined an invite to attend the town hall, CNN said, though he has indicated a willingness to explore gun-control options.

A town-hall meeting held in Sunrise, Florida, on Wednesday night brought together students, parents, educators, politicians, and the National Rifle Association under one roof to talk about ways to move forward, exactly one week after a school shooting that ended the lives of 17 people.

The event, hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, comes after days of heated discourse around guns in America. That discussion has focused acutely on whether laws should be changed in an effort to preventing mass shootings. Such incidents have increased in regularity in the US over the past two decades.

Dubbed “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action,” the town hall opened with a tribute to the 17 people who were killed by a gunman wielding an AR-15 assault rifle in the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Within the first five minutes, Bill Nelson, the Democratic senator from Florida, called for “getting assault rifles off the streets,” prompting a standing ovation.

The state’s Republican senator, Marco Rubio, followed Nelson, acknowledging his party’s reluctancy to address gun violence and lamenting the fraught political discourse in the US. Rubio soon got an earful from Fred Guttenberg, the father of a 14-year-old girl who was killed in the Parkland shooting.

Guttenberg said Rubio’s words and those of President Donald Trump on the matter of gun violence had been “pathetically weak.”

Trump earlier Wednesday floated the possibility of arming teachers as a safety measure. The idea received mixed reactions, including from a Stoneman Douglas teacher at the town hall, Ashley Kurth, who asked Rubio for his thoughts on the proposal. Rubio said he did not support it. Nelson echoed the sentiment.

Kurth, a gun-rights supporter who voted for Trump in 2016, urged Trump and congressional leaders last week to take action on guns.

In another particularly heated exchange, a student confronted Rubio, asking him to say whether he would accept campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. Rubio did not answer the question, prompting some jeers from the audience. The senator insisted that his campaign donors buy into his agenda and asserted that he did not serve theirs.

Rubio took several blows during the event, but he also staked out a few positions supporting gun control. He said he supported raising the minimum age required to buy certain guns, saying, “I absolutely believe that in this country if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle.”

Rubio also said he would reconsider his position on high-capacity magazines, insisting “we can reach a compromise” on that matter. Lawmakers have argued that restricting large magazine clips, effectively limiting the number of bullets a gunman can shoot before reloading, could save lives. Rubio echoed the point while conceding that “it may not prevent an attack.”

Student survivors of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas have been especially vocal, and that remained true at the town hall, where they challenged lawmakers.

“Will my school campus be safe when I return?” one student asked. In response, Rep. Ted Deutch said state law-enforcement officials, school administrators, and “everyone who’s focused on school security” would ensure student safety.

Deutch also made a broader point, urging federal lawmakers to follow through on legislation banning bump stocks and beefing up background checks for gun purchases – two proposals Trump has touted this week.

The NRA takes some heat

A National Rifle Association spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, faced some pointed questions at the event, at times clashing with the audience and the Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel.

Emma Gonzalez, one of the most vocal survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, asked Loesch whether the NRA spokeswoman thought it should be more difficult for people to obtain semiautomatic weapons and modifications like bump stocks that can increase a weapon’s rate of fire.

“I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever,” Loesch said of Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged in the shooting. “I do not think that he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon.”

“This individual was nuts, and I – nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organisation that I’m here speaking for – none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm,” Loesch said.

Loesch insisted that she was fighting for survivors like Gonzalez so they wouldn’t have to “be in this position again.”

That comment did not sit well with some of the attendees, including Israel, the sheriff, who challenged Loesch on the assertion. “You’re not standing up for them until you say, ‘I want less weapons,'” Israel said to raucous cheering and applause.

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