Rubio faces tough audience at CNN forum, backs some gun restrictions while refusing to disavow NRA

Gov. Rick Scott skipped the town hall, giving Sen. Bill Nelson room.
Published Feb. 22, 2018|Updated Feb. 22, 2018

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio came under fierce criticism at CNN's town hall, drawing boos and hard questions from Parkland students and the angry father of a murdered 14-year-old, yet also earning credit for showing up, unlike fellow Republican Rick Scott.

The NRA's A+ rated Rubio sought a moderate tone throughout the night, an emotional and lively forum in Broward County, and backed some gun restrictions, including raising the age limit for buying assault rifles to 21 from 18 and restricting the capacity of magazines.

Rubio also came out against arming teachers with weapons, an idea floated earlier in the day by President Donald Trump and one before the GOP-led Florida Legislature.

But the tough questions kept coming for Rubio, with one student pointedly challenging him not to accept money from the NRA. The senator rejected a ban, repeatedly saying the gun lobby buys into his agenda, not the other way around, his common response about special interest money.

An outcry ensued, forcing host Jake Tapper quiet the audience. Rubio faced numerous boos for his nuanced responses.

One of the most dramatic moments came when Rubio was confronted by Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was among the 17 killed.

"Sen. Rubio. My daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was shot in the back with an assault weapon — the weapon of choice. OK?" Guttenberg said. "It is too easy to get. 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 said the ban would not prevent mass shootings — arguing bad people would get their hands on weapons — and then shifted to a discussion on loopholes. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, seized that moment and challenged Rubio to work on closing those gaps.

Scott's absence was duly noted by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is bracing for a challenge this November from the governor.

Nelson credited Rubio for having the "guts" to show and told a national TV audience that he and Rubio work well together, while blasting Scott for giving incentives to gun makers to set up shop in Florida.

Nelson himself called for a ban on assault weapons and also scoffed at the idea of arming teachers, calling it a "terrible idea."