Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) submitted to some very tough questioning at a CNN town hall on gun violence Wednesday night, and no exchange was tougher than his first one. Fred Guttenberg, the father of a 14-year-old who was killed last week in the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., passionately pressed Rubio on his gun-control stance, which Guttenberg labeled “weak.”
Since the exchange has gotten so much attention, we thought it worth posting the entire thing below — along with another, later exchange with a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, Ryan Deitsch — and adding annotations and fact checks.
To see an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text.
GUTTENBERG: Senator Rubio, I just listened to your opening and thank you. 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.
When I like you, you know it, and when I'm pissed at you, you know it. Your comments this week, and those of our president, have been pathetically weak.
So, you and I are now eye to eye. Because I want to like you. 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: Fred, first of all, let me explain what I said this week. And I'll repeat it — I'll repeat what I said. And then I'm going to tell you what we're going to do.
RUBIO: We’re going to talk about guns, and we’re going to talk about what I said this (inaudible). This is what I said. I said that the problems that we are facing —
GUTTENBERG: Let — let him speak. I think we need to hear it.
RUBIO: I’m saying that the problems that we’re facing here today cannot be solved by gun laws alone. And I’m going to tell you what we’ve done already and what I hope we’ll do moving forward.
GUTTENBERG: Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids?
RUBIO: Of course they were. And here’s what —
GUTTENBERG: It’s the weapons of choice. Can you say that?
RUBIO: No. 1 Fred, I absolutely believe that in this country if you are 18 years of age you should not be able to buy a rifle, and I will support a law that takes that right away.
RUBIO: I will support —
RUBIO: I will support the banning of bump stocks, and I know the president has ordered the attorney general to do it and if he doesn’t, we should do it by law. I will support changing our background system so it includes more information than it includes now and that all states across the country are required or incentivized to report all the information into it.
And let me tell you what I’ve done already. In — last year when we came up with our budget in the Senate, I pushed for and got approved $50 million a year through the Sandy Hook Initiative to provide a threat assessment fund for — for all states to be able to stand up in each of the school districts as a way to identify people who could potentially do this, and get ahead of it before it happens.
I — I support — I support moving forward on that initiative and making it widely available for everyone around the country. Now I think what you’re asking about is the assault weapons ban.
GUTTENBERG: Yes sir.
RUBIO: So let me be honest with you about that one. If I believed that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it. But I want to explain to you why it would not.
GUTTENBERG: Senator Rubio, my daughter running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was shot in the back.
RUBIO: Yes, sir.
GUTTENBERG: With an assault weapon, the weapon of choice.
RUBIO: Yes, sir.
GUTTENBERG: Okay. 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: Sir, I do believe what you’re saying is —
RUBIO: I do believe — I do believe what you’re saying is true. I do believe what you’re saying —
TAPPER: Everyone — everyone. The senator has the right to be heard. He’s answering Mr. Guttenberg’s question.
RUBIO: I do believe what you’re saying is true. I believe that someone like this individual and anyone like him shouldn’t have any gun. Not this gun, any gun. But I want to explain to you for a moment the problem with the law that they call the assault weapons ban. And if you’ll give me — and indulge me for a minute to explain to you the problem. First you have to define what it is. If you look at the law and its definition, it basically bans 200 models of gun — about 220 specific models of gun.
GUTTENBERG: Good. Good.
RUBIO: But it makes — but it — but it — it allows legal 2,000 other types of gun that are identical. Identical, in the way that they function and how fast they fire and the type of caliber that they fire and the way they perform. They’re indistinguishable from the ones that become illegal. And the only thing that separates the two types — the only thing that separates the two types is, if you put a plastic handle grip on one it becomes banned, if it doesn’t have a plastic handle it does not become banned.
So let me explain if I may, just for a moment more.
GUTTENBERG: Are you saying —
RUBIO: What the problem has been with the law —
GUTTENBERG: Are you saying you will start with the 200 and work your way up?
RUBIO: I would explain what has happened —
GUTTENBERG: I’ll — It’s a place to start. We can do that.
RUBIO: Well — let me — let me explain to you what’s happened. So in New York they have passed that ban. And you know what they’ve done to get right around it? It took them 15 seconds to do it. They simply take the plastic tip off of it. They just take the plastic grip off of the front or the back —
GUTTENBERG: So we don’t (inaudible)?
RUBIO: The same gun and it becomes legal, performs the exact same way. So what my belief is — my belief remains that rather than continue to try to chase every loophole that’s created. That’s why it failed in ’94. It’s why they’re getting around it now in California, it’s how they get around it in New York — is we instead should make sure that dangerous criminals, people that are deranged cannot buy any gun of any kind. That’s what I believe a better answer will be.
GUTTENBERG: Your answer speaks for itself.
Below is the second exchange, from later in the town hall:
DEITSCH: First, I'd just like to say to Senator Rubio: Thank you so much for coming out here. I know, especially everybody that I've been working with over the past week, we've just really wanted to reach out and speak face to face to anybody who has a say in this debate.
And I know this is not a debate. This is a discussion. But I'm just thankful to have you here, to be looking at you today. Thank you so much, sir, for coming.
Now — now I'd like to say, senator, these drills, code reds, active shooters, they've been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
When I was in fifth grade, I had to hide in the — in a — in a bathroom for three — for three hours, and just waiting with my teacher and nearly 20 other kids, to see that — just because a shooter has come to our town. Not even in the school itself.
Now, seven years later, I'm in a closet with 19 other kids, waiting, fearing for my own life. Now I'd like to ask you that, after me and several others have been going out of their way, going to the state capital, speaking out, we — we'd like to know, Why do we have to be the ones to do this? Why do we have to speak out to the capital?
Why do we have to march on Washington, just to save innocent lives?
RUBIO: I agree.
RUBIO: You're right. You're — you're absolutely right. And let me start by saying — and it goes without saying — that what you've lived through and what you live through is not supposed to be a part of your high school experience. It's just not supposed to happen.
The second thing I would say is that it is unfortunate that, in this country, we haven't been able to make progress on any major issue for a lot of different reasons, and this being one of them.
But you have do — you do have a chance to change it. I really believe it. But the change that we are going to have to figure out, how people that have strong feelings on both sides can agree on things. And I think you are making progress. I can tell you what's already happening, as a result of your advocacy.
For example, I've already announced — and I hope they will pass it. I really think they will, and they should — a concept called the Gun Violence Restraining Order, that allows authorities — and it has to be someone in your immediate family.
It has to be somebody you live with, it has to be your parent, it has to be an administrator — can go to authorities and allow someone to not just be prevented from purchasing any firearm, okay? Not just the rifle. Any firearm. And allow those to be taken from them, and that person will have due process.
Because I believe that if that were in place in Florida, and it — I — about three states already have it — it could have prevented this from happening. And I support that, and I hope they will pass that. And I think that is a result of your advocacy.
DEITSCH: If I may, I — I do appreciate your words there. But that feels like the first step of a 5K run.
RUBIO: It most certainly is.
I would say it's more than a 5K run ...
... this issue — this issue will take more than a 5K run because there's so much to do. But that is an important step. And if that happens in the next three weeks, it'll be because of what you guys have done.
And it won't end there. On Monday of this week, I believe we're going to try, Senator Nelson and I, to pass the Fix NICS Act, which is fixing the background check system. Because the background check is only as good as the information that's on it.
And one of the problems we have — and this is going to be an uncomfortable discussion for our country — we're going to have to look at HIPAA laws, when it comes to certain things. Because right now, they can't — these people can't even talk to each other if someone is under psychiatric care or something's going on in their lives. That's going to have to be fixed.
And what I’m saying is — what you're doing now is making a difference, it is making a difference. It's already started to make a difference. I believe it can and will make a difference if this doesn't end here, because the way we were in this country today, and I don’t mean that as a criticism of you, Jake, but the cameras will leave, and the issues move on, but the heartbreak will remain.
And so if we truly want this to be the last time, then what you have done cannot end next week or next month or even next year, but I do believe at the end of the three-week session in Tallahassee, you've achieved that restraining order and a few other important things that I believe they're thinking about doing, I would take that, I would herald it as a victory, and I would continue the momentum moving forward until we make sure no community in America will ever have to have a forum like the one here tonight.