A panel of students and teachers who survived the shooting at a Florida high school last week, along with many parents of victims, voiced their frustrations and anger, along with their hopes for gun law reforms, during a town hall hosted by CNN on Wednesday night.
More than 7,000 people gathered at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, to listen to many of those affected by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which left 17 people dead. The tragedy, the 17th school shooting so far in 2018, has prompted a wave of activism in recent days and an outpouring of anger directed at lawmakers who have refused to pass gun control legislation.
Such frustrations were on full display Wednesday as several people asked Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) what they plan to do now. Ryan Deitsch, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, asked Rubio about Congress’ failure to rein in gun access and why its the students themselves who “have to march on Washington just to save innocent lives.”
“You’re right,” the senator replied. “What you’ve lived through, and what you live through, is not supposed to be a part of your high school experience.”
In a heated exchange, Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jamie, was killed last week, demanded Rubio tell him that he would “work with us to do something about guns.”
“Sen. Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Douglas, was shot with an assault weapon, the weapon of choice,” Guttenberg said. “It is too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can stand here and can’t say that, I’m sorry.”
Ashley Kurth, a teacher who sheltered nearly 70 students during the attack, addressed President Donald Trump’s suggestion earlier that day that educators in schools be armed to help prevent more shooting deaths.
“When I had those hundreds of terrified children that were running at me, my question to that is, am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect on top of educate these children?” Kurth asked. “I mean, am I supposed to have a Kevlar vest? Am I supposed to strap it to my leg or put it in my desk? How am I supposed to go on that way?”
Rubio broke with the president and said he didn’t believe teachers should be armed, saying, “Teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with.”
Another teacher at the school, Diane Wolk-Rogers, defended the actions of the outspoken survivors of the massacre, some of whom have already become subject to derision from conservative commentators.
“Our kids have started a revolution. I’m proud and I’m inspired to be a part of never again,” she said.
Our kids have started a revolution. I’m proud and I’m inspired to be a part of never again. Stoneman Douglas High teacher Diane Wolk-Rogers
The latter half of the town hall grew increasingly tense as students began asking questions of National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch. In response to a question about efforts to make semiautomatic weapons harder to obtain, Loesch said the NRA was against such legislation and said she was standing up for Americans.
But Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, whose police force responded to the Feb. 14 shooting, lambasted the NRA’s role in quashing common-sense gun control legislation.
“You just told this group of people that you are standing up for them,” Israel said, prompting a wave of applause. “You’re not standing up for them until you say, ‘I want less weapons.’”
He continued: “We do need to have some gun control and reform. ... Anybody who says different, I don’t know about other people, but Emma [Gonzalez, a student survivor] and I ― we’re calling BS on that.”
Loesch later noted that the suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, should not have been able to obtain a firearm, even though the gun used in the massacre was purchased legally.
“People who are crazy should not be able to get firearms,” Loesch said. “People who are dangerous to themselves and other individuals should not be able to obtain a firearm.”
The NRA’s influence came up earlier in the evening after high school student Cameron Kasky directly asked Rubio if he’d continue taking campaign donations from the group after the shooting.
“Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?” Kasky asked, before the senator effectively said still he’d accept future contributions from the group.
“People buy into my agenda ― and I do support the Second Amendment,” Rubio replied.
The senator has received more than $3.3 million from the NRA over the course of his political career.