Marco Rubio did something fairly remarkable at CNN's fascinating gun control town hall

CNNMarco Rubio at CNN’s town hall.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio hinted at some potentially significant shifts on gun legislation Wednesday night.
  • It’s a clear signal of how much the debate has moved since a 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

People keep saying that “something is different” after the Florida shooting.

Nate Silver notes the unusual staying power in people searching for “gun control” a week after the shooting. Even President Donald Trump says he hopes Congress is “in a mood” to “finally do something” on guns.

On Wednesday night, we received our most profound bit of evidence that, yes, something is different.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who shouldn’t be praised so heavily for interacting directly with his constituents, signalled an important shift in his own approach to gun legislation – and the Republican Party as a whole.

In a CNN town-hall event, Rubio:

  • Said he supported raising the age limit from 18 to 21 when buying a rifle;
  • Disagreed with Trump’s proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools;
  • Highlighted a proposal similar to one has been implemented in states like California, in which a person close to a potentially troubled individual could file for a restraining order to temporarily prevent them from purchasing a weapon;
  • Said he was open to reconsidering the size of gun magazines.

This might not seem remarkable in the moment. It certainly did not to thousands of people who were in the audience at CNN’s fascinating event, where they booed and challenged Rubio. One person called him “pathetically weak.”

Advocates of stricter gun laws will tell you that since Newtown, where 20 children were gunned down in 2012, it’s been about the long game. Though it didn’t lead to an immediate fix, Newtown was an inflection point – when advocates started banding together in proactive, meaningful ways and kept pressure on public officials even when their proposed solutions failed.

You can see how different Rubio’s approach was after Newtown. Of course, in his mind, he was going to be running for president in 2016 with the strong backing of the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun rights groups. But here’s what he said immediately after the Newtown shooting:

“My heart breaks for the victims and families impacted by the senseless act of violence today in Newtown, Connecticut. In a world that can at times be defined by its darkness, children are a reminder of what is good, cheerful and beautiful about life. An act of violence against these defenseless young people, as well as the faculty and staff who dedicate themselves daily to educating and caring for them, is a deed of unconscionable evil. I pray that God holds Newtown close tonight as all of her residents come to terms with this tragedy.”

Three months later, as the debate in Congress centered on new gun measures, he signed onto a letter with three other Republican senators – including eventual presidential rivals Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. His office said he was “expressing his opposition to any legislation with additional restrictions on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

He would tell you his position hasn’t changed. But you can see it just in the difference in words.

In 2013, after Newtown, he voted against a bill to limit a gun’s magazine capacity. There was no reconsidering then. There was not even a discussion.

“All Americans have a Second Amendment right to buy a firearm, to possess one for both self-defence and for sport. And we should be very careful about anything that infringes on that,” he said.

Of course, this time, it may end in the same result. But in the long game, the progress is evident.

“I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size,” he said Wednesday night, “and after this and some of the details I learned about it, I’m reconsidering that position.”

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