A congressional hearing on gun violence erupted into recriminations on Wednesday after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and called for the removal of two fathers whose children were killed in last year’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Gaetz, one of President Trump’s most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, prompted an outcry from the Parkland fathers when he argued at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that illegal immigration is a greater threat to public safety than gun violence.
The panel was discussing H.R. 8, a bipartisan measure introduced in the House last month that would require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers.
“As we hear the stories and circumstances for those here, I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens,” Gaetz said. “H.R. 8 would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall — a barrier on the southern border — may have, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Two Parkland fathers, Manuel Oliver and Fred Guttenberg, were seated in the audience. Oliver, who lost his son Joaquin in the shooting, stood up and protested Gaetz’s remarks; Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed, also spoke out.
Seventeen students and staff members were killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), called for order and reminded audience members not to speak out during hearings. But moments later, as Gaetz resumed speaking and argued that undocumented immigrants are a greater threat than firearms, he again prompted a retort from Oliver.
After another admonition from Nadler, the room quieted down, and Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) posed a question.
“Is there any committee rule that prevents a member of Congress from reciting false statements in a committee hearing that are unsupported by the evidence, or are members of Congress entitled to just make things up in support of specious arguments?” he asked, prompting applause from some in the room.
Later, Gaetz pointed his finger at Oliver and Guttenberg, asking whether there is a committee process that calls for audience members to be ejected for repeatedly interrupting members.
The hearing was the first on gun control in years. Democrats have made the issue a priority since retaking control of the House last month. Any gun-control legislation stands little chance of proceeding in the Senate, however, where Republicans retain the majority.
Both Guttenberg and Oliver were in the House chamber on Tuesday night for Trump’s State of the Union address. Guttenberg was a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while Oliver was a guest of Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
Oliver, an artist, has taken on the role of an activist in the year since the shooting. He recently performed a stand-up routine in which he denounced comedian Louis C.K. for mocking the Parkland victims; he and his wife have also started a gun-control group called Change the Ref.
Guttenberg, who has founded a group called Orange Ribbons for Jaime, has also been vocal on the issue of gun violence. He voiced disappointment in an op-ed for Newsweek on Wednesday that Trump “stayed silent” on the issue during his speech on Tuesday night.
“While watching this speech, sadly, I realized that had my daughter’s killer been an illegal immigrant, the president would have mentioned it,” Guttenberg said. “He failed to mention it because like so many victims of gun violence, she was killed by an American male.”