What Bill Nelson got totally wrong in Wednesday's guns town hall

(CNN)At Wednesday night's town hall on guns, Sen. Marco Rubio was repeatedly pressed -- and criticized -- by the audience in Sunrise, Florida, for his past defenses of gun rights.

But for me, it was Rubio's Senate colleague -- Bill Nelson -- who struck the truly sour notes.
Nelson, a Democrat running for re-election next fall, seemed to view the town hall -- hosted by CNN and moderated by Jake Tapper -- as a vehicle to jump-start his campaign against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely expected to run against him.
No matter the question asked of him, Nelson found a way to make it all about Scott.
    One exchange, between Stoneman Douglas student Samantha Grady and Nelson, was particularly galling.
    Grady told Nelson the story of how she was shot twice on February 14 and watched "as my best friend was killed right in front of me." She then proceeded to ask,"What are you going to do to strengthen background checks, to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring again?"
    To that tale of horror and sorrow, Nelson responded this way (I am excerpting a big chunk of his response so you get the full context):
    "We have in Florida what is known as the 'Gun Show Loophole.'
    "There was actually a constitutional amendment passed in 1998 to our state constitution and it was to be left up to the counties, and most of the counties have not enforced the gun show loophole. And as a result, you can go to a gun show, if it's not a licensed federal dealer, that is selling a gun, there is no requirement of a criminal background check.
    "That's one thing can be done, not only in Florida, but that can be done in Washington as well.
    "You asked specifically about the criminal background check. That would certainly help.
    "It would have been if there had been an intrusive one, it would've gotten to Omar Mateen, the murderer in the Pulse nightclub, 49 lives.
    "I want to say that my colleague Senator Rubio and I have a good relationship. We get a lot of stuff done together.
    "And I want you to know that I told him before we came out here tonight that he had guts coming here -- when in fact there is no representative of the state of Florida. Our governor did not come here, Governor Scott -- but Marco did."
    First off: Where is the empathy? This kid has been grazed by one bullet and hit by the ricochet of another. She has watched someone close to her murdered. To immediately launch into an esoteric discussion of various laws and constitutional amendments as a way to comfort a grieving teenager is just a massive swing and miss.
    Second, Nelson's pivot to praising Rubio as a way to take a shot at Scott is both out of nowhere and totally transparent. "Hey, by the way, Marco is great! But Rick Scott is terrible! And he's not even here!"
    (Scott was invited by CNN to attend the event and declined.)
    Just in case you missed Nelson's point, here it is again -- in a different moment in the town hall (again, I am excerpting a major portion for the sake of full context):
    "Let me tell you about the bill that I have cosponsored. It defines very specifically assault rifle, it lists 200 different assault rifles. It lists, for example, the Kalashnikov AK-47 that -- did you know? -- is manufactured in this state. Did you know that the state of Florida, the governor's office gave financial incentives for them to come into the state and manufacture? Tell you another one, that it is listed in that list of over 200 rifles. It's the Sig Sauer MCX. That was the one that Omar Mateen, despite the fact that he had been on the terrorist watch list and was off, went into a gun shop and purchased that high-powered assault rifle.
    "And on that list, it also includes the AR-15. And did you know that the state of Florida, the governor's office, gave financial incentives for the Colt corporation to come to Kissimmee to manufacture AR-15s, the same one that wreaked such havoc here and that you all are suffering so terribly from."
    Yes, we get it, Senator. Rick Scott = bad. You = good?
    Look. Scott should have shown up on Wednesday night. Not doing so was a mistake.
    But I thought Nelson made a major mistake, too. That town hall wasn't about racking up political points on a likely opponent. It was about trying to get beyond all of that -- even for a night -- to just have an honest conversation about guns. Unfortunately, Nelson didn't get that memo.