Survivors of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took center stage at a CNN town hall Wednesday in Sunrise, Florida. The students, their parents and teachers asked frank questions of Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, Rep. Ted Deutch, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch.
Listen to the town hall in its entirety:
Or read the transcript:
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Good evening and welcome to Broward County, Florida, I’m Jake Tapper.
You’re about to witness an historic exchange between survivors of a horrific school shooting and their elected leaders.
In this arena are thousands of people whose lives were changed forever, one week ago today, when a gunman opened fire inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 students and teachers. Four victims remain hospitalized.
But since that horrible day, we have seen this community come together and we have seen an amazing and eloquent group of students with various opinions talk about what they feel needs to change.
We’re here tonight to facilitate your desire to speak directly to your leaders, students, and family members, and faculty will get to ask questions to Florida’s two US senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, as well as their Congressman, Democrat Ted Deutch.
#StudentsStandUp town hall
- Students at town hall to Washington, NRA: Guns are the problem, do something
- Rubio backs raising age to buy rifles, says he'll consider ban on large-capacity magazines
- NRA spokeswoman: 'Insane monster' shouldn't have been able to get a firearm
- Father of teen slain in Florida school massacre slams Rubio on gun stances
- Trump suggests arming teachers as a solution to increase school safety
And later tonight these students and their families will get to ask questions of the road County Sheriff, Scott Israel, and a national spokesperson for the NRA.
We should note that President Trump declined an invitation to be here tonight, either in person or from the White House, as did the governor of Florida, Rick Scott who declined to be here in person or from Tallahassee.
Before we begin — before we begin tonight, we want to take some time to remember the 17 beloved members of the community who were murdered one week ago today.
TAPPER: May their memory be a blessing.
Students, parents, and teachers, the lawmakers are ready to answer your questions.
But first they each wanted a minute to address you, specifically.
I’m going to start with Congressman Deutsch.
REP. TED DEUTCH, D-FLORIDA: Thanks Jake.
And thank you to CNN for being here in South Florida for a very important and yet incredibly difficult evening.
A lot of people have told this community, people from all around the world, that it’s too soon – it’s too soon to get together to have this kind of forum; it’s too soon to talk about preventing another tragedy like the one that struck our community from happening anywhere again; it’s too soon to talk about getting weapons of war out of our communities.
It is —
DEUTCH: — it is not — it is not too soon; it is too late for the 17 lives that are lost.
DEUTCH: It is too late for the grieving families, too late for the injured, too late for the 3,300 survivors of what happened.
Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson, we represent these fine people; we will not be judged by what we say here tonight, by the quality of our answers or by any back-and-forth in words.
DEUTCH: And Senator Nelson, we represent these fine people. We will not be judged by what we say here tonight by the quality of our answers or by any back and forth in words. The folks in our community don’t want words, they don’t want thoughts and prayers, they don’t want discussions, they want action and we owe it to them (inaudible)
TAPPER: Senator Nelson. Senator Nelson
SEN. BILL NELSON, D-FLORIDA: We’re all grieving. Your hope gives me hope. Your determination gives me more determination, and what we’re facing is what’s going to be done. Now there ought to be some common sense solutions like getting the assault rifles off the streets.
Another common sense solution – having criminal backgrounds on every acquiring of a gun.
So, you have been so strong. Keep it up and keep hope alive.
TAPPER: Senator Rubio.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLORIDA: The – there’s no words that could describe the pain that a parent feels at the loss of a child or when you lose someone that – it’s not natural to lose a child. And I am a U.S. Senator, and I’m also a member of this community, and I’m also a father, and I’m also a husband, and I’m also someone who loves but I don’t know what the pain is like to lose a child.
I did not grow up in a school or in an era in which children were shot in classrooms, and even as we watch this pain and the nation suffers with you our – we can never know the feeling. I can tell you this. There is a message that’s come through loud and clear, and that is that beyond simply the pain – mixed with that pain is a demand for action and…
– while in that realm, I want to be honest with you. I think all of us would like to see action, but I want to tell you what we’re going to struggle with. We are a nation of people that no longer speak to each other. We are a nation of people who have stopped being friends with people because who they voted for in the last election.
We are a nation of people who have isolated ourselves to only watch channels that tell us that we’re right. We’re a nation of people that have isolated ourselves politically and to a point where discussions like this have become very difficult. I’m here tonight, and I’m here tonight to answer any question anyone has, explain anything you want to know about what I stand for, what I’ve done and what I plan to do. And to the students that are here tonight, the ones on the stage, the ones in the audience, I want you to know that I’m actually extremely excited about your engagement, and ill tell you why. I’ll tell you why, because I think you have a chance to do a lot more then change gun laws.
You should push for that. You have a chance to do a lot more than that. You have a chance to change the way we talk about politics in this country, and the reason why this event here is so important tonight – the reason why this event is so important – none of us wish we were here.
Eight days ago none of you thought you’d be here, but we are here and it’s important that we are because tonight people who have different points of view are going to talk about an issue that I think we all believe and that is that this should never of happened and it can never again.
And if we want to truly ensure that it doesn’t – if we want to ensure that it doesn’t then we are going to have to find the way of the nation – as a nation to work with people that may not agree with us on certain things, without accusing one another of being evil people and my side is as guilty is that of any.
And, here’s what I hope for the students, do not make the mistakes that my generation is making. It may not be - - I hope it’s not too late for my generation, but it most certainly is not for yours. Understand that people - - and I think on a regular basis, we do it in the Senate, between Senator Nelson and I.
I think people that disagree on issues can agree on what they want to achieve and can find a way forward, and that’s what I hope tonight is beyond anything else. Because, sadly, we cannot reverse what happened seven days ago today, but we can make sure that one of these events never happens again in any community in this country.
And, if tonight is the beginning of that, then we will have said that this was meaningful, and that’s what I’m here to do. And, that’s what I hope we can achieve together and that’s why I’m here tonight.
You might not like everything I say, or everything I stand for, but I want to find a way forward to solve this problem. So that never again will any community have to face this, any parent have to face this, or any child, yours or mine, have to face this in what I believe is the greatest nation on earth.
TAPPER: Thank you.
I want to bring in Ryan Schacter. Ryan Schacter’s younger brother, Alex, was killed in the shooting. Alex was 14, he played in the school band and the school orchestra. Ryan has a question for Congressman Deutch.
SCHACTER: Congressman Deutch, my name is Ryan Schacter, I’m a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My brother, Alex, was killed in the shooting last Wednesday. I’m supposed to go back to school in the upcoming week.
My friends and I are worried that we are going to be murdered in our classrooms. What reassurances can you give me and what specifically are you going to do to make sure that we can’t have this fear?
DEUTCH: Well, first of all, I offer my heartfelt condolences. I’m sorry for your loss. And, I understand why you feel that way, because in our country today what happened at Stoneman Douglas has happened too many times.
What am I going to do? Well, as a starter, next week when we go back to Washington, we’re going to introduce legislation to make sure that assault weapons are illegal in every part of this country.
But, that’s not going to help you when you go back to school and all I can tell you is that we stand with law enforcement in Broward County. We stand with the administration and the teachers in your school to provide as much security, as much comfort, as much as can make you feel that you’re in a safe place.
But, beyond that, the best way for us to show that is to take action in Washington, in Tallahassee, to get these weapons of war off of our streets.
TAPPER: Thank you, Congressman.
I want to bring in Fred Guttenberg. Fred’s 14 year-old daughter, Jaime, was lost last week and he has a question for Senator Rubio.
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 –
GUTTENBURG: 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.
GUTTENBURG: Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids?
RUBIO: Of course they were. And here’s what - -
GUTTENBURG: It’s the weapons of choice. Can you say that?
RUBIO: Number one 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 that 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 that 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 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.
GUTTENBURG: Yes sir.
RUBIO: So let me be honest with you about that one. If I believe that that law would have prevented this from happening I would support it. But I want to explain to you why it would not.
GUTTENBURG: Senator Rubio, my daughter running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was shot in the back.
RUBIO: Yes, sir.
GUTTENBURG: With an assault weapon, the weapon of choice.
RUBIO: Yes, sir.
GUTTENBURG: OK. 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. Guttenburg’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 Weapon’s 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 it’s definition, it basically bans 200 models of gun - - about 220 specific models of gun.
GUTTENBURG: 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.
GUTTENBURG: Are you saying - -
RUBIO: What the problem has been with the law - -
GUTTENBURG: Are you saying you will start with the 200 and work your way up?
RUBIO: I would explain what has happened - -
GUTTENBURG: 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 - -
GUTTENBURG: 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 loop hole 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.
GUTTENBURG: Your answer speaks for itself.
TAPPER: Thank you Mr. Guttenburg. I appreciate your time. The only thing I’m - - I’m not going to tell anybody in this room.
I’m not going to tell anybody in this room not to feel strongly and - - and not to feel emotional. The only thing I will tell you is, when you do this, you’re eating up into the time that other people in the audience, other people who want to ask questions are asking questions. OK? So you behave how you want to behave but I want to make sure that as many people in this community - -
DEUTCH: And – and I – and I know – Jake, I know this – I know this is not a debate, but I don’t know if we’re