Sen. Marco Rubio on the defensive on gun control

Students, parents, lawmakers, NRA discuss Parkland school shooting

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer, Louis Aguirre - Anchor/Reporter

SUNRISE, Fla. - A week after Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 rifle to kill teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, CNN hosted a town hall at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. 

During CNN's "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said he would support laws barring those 18 years old and younger from buying assault weapons.

Rubio added that he supports a gun violence restraining order, getting rid of bump stocks and improving the background check system. 

"I hope they will pass that, and I think that is a result of your advocacy," Rubio said. 

Rubio was the only Republican who spoke at the town hall after President Donald Trump, Gov. Rick Scott, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Florida Senate President Joe Negron declined invitations to the CNN town hall.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed on Feb. 14 told Rubio that his comments about the shooting “and those of your president this week have been pathetically weak." 

Guttenberg got a standing ovation from the audience before challenging Rubio to acknowledge that "guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids."

Rubio agreed while speaking next to Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Ted Deutch, both Democrats from Florida. The also three agreed that arming teachers wasn't a good idea. 

"I still hunt with my son, but an AK-47 and an AR-15 is not for hunting. It's for killing," Nelson said. 

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch attended the town hall. She said she represents millions of members when she said no one believes Cruz should have had access to a firearm. She said people who are "crazy" should not be able to get a firearm.

"I don't want anyone to be in this position again," Loesch said. 

Loesch said the background check system needs to be improved and law enforcement needs to follow up on red flags. 

Some of the most outspoken survivors of the "Never Again" movement were in Tallahassee, where 71 Florida House representatives voted against bringing a bill to ban the rifles to the floor, and traveled back to Sunrise for the town hall. 

"This is the time to talk about it. We've gone through the stages of grief," said Ashley Paseltiner, a 16-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who hid in a closet. "We are here to fight and we are not going down until we make a change."

Florida Republican lawmakers have refused policies that restrict the Second Amendment since taking control of the Legislature in 1999. 

The town hall followed a day of school walkouts around the country to demand a ban on assault-style rifles like the one Cruz was able to buy when he was 18 years old. 

Cruz remains at the main Broward County jail, facing 17 counts of premeditated murder. Despite years of behavioral troubles, Cruz was able to own a collection of weapons.

Copyright 2018 by WPLG The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.