Sen. Marco Rubio Backs Down On Some Gun Ownership Restrictions At CNN Town Hall

Feb 22, 2018
Originally published on February 23, 2018 7:05 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last night, CNN held a televised town hall. Several Florida politicians, a representative from the NRA and the local sheriff faced a crowd of angry, grieving students, teachers and parents from Parkland, Fla. Senator Marco Rubio, the lone Republican lawmaker on the stage, received a lot of that anger. He has an A-plus rating from the NRA, and he's benefitted from millions of NRA dollars over his career.

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CAMERON KASKY: Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: One of the students who questioned him was high school junior Cameron Kasky.

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KASKY: You can say no.

MARCO RUBIO: Well...

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RUBIO: I - the influence of these groups comes not from money. The influence comes from the millions of people that agree with the agenda. And millions of American support...

SHAPIRO: The town hall was more than just shouting. Many people were surprised that Senator Rubio changed position on certain issues. One of those surprised people is NPR's own Susan Davis, who's here in the studio. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You've covered Congress for a long time. What about what Rubio said in that town hall last night surprised you?

DAVIS: One of the things that I think was interesting is a lot of times when politicians go into these events, they don't necessarily go in to change their minds. They go in to defend their positions. And at this event, Marco Rubio appeared to soften his prior stances on gun rights on a number of issues.

SHAPIRO: What were those issues?

DAVIS: Couple of examples that he said he was now open to - one is raising the age limit for people to be able to buy long guns or rifles. He also talked about an idea that is percolating again that would limit high-capacity magazines.

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RUBIO: Because I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size. And after this and some of the details I've learned about it, I'm reconsidering that position, and I'll tell you why.

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RUBIO: I'll tell you why - because while it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack.

DAVIS: Two additional senators - Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, and Dianne Feinstein of California - also announced yesterday they're going to introduce legislation to that end. So whether Marco Rubio becomes a cosponsor of that will be interesting to watch.

He also voiced support for something you were going to hear a lot about called gun violence restraining orders, which is - would essentially give law enforcement more authority to take guns away from people who they think might be a threat. Couple of things he did not change his mind on, though - he still does not support a so-called assault weapons ban. And unlike President Trump, he said he does not support arming teachers in the classroom.

SHAPIRO: Marco Rubio's critics have accused him in the past of taking politically convenient positions depending on which way the winds are blowing. Do you think these positions are likely to change when the political winds blow in a different direction?

DAVIS: That is a great question, and I think it's worth noting, especially in the context of Marco Rubio, that these kind of mass shootings are also in recent Florida memory. The Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting happened right around the same time that he was reconsidering his decision to run for re-election in 2016. And he used that shooting as sort of an example of caring about the public and wanting to engage in public life. And then he won re-election and didn't really keep talking about preventing these mass shootings.

We're having another incident. He's talking now. The follow through will be key here not just about Marco Rubio but any lawmaker who's talking right now about wanting to change the debate.

SHAPIRO: I recently asked the Florida state senator who represents Parkland, a Democrat, whether he thinks a lawmaker who's had an A-plus rating from the NRA could get behind some of these measures. And what he said was, you're an A-plus student until the day you fail a test. Do you think any of these lawmakers are going to be willing to make a shift that dramatic?

DAVIS: We've been talking a lot about Republicans because that is the party that consistently has opposed loosening gun restrictions. But I also think it's important to talk about the fact that a lot of Democrats don't really want to make gun issues the forefront of what campaigns are about.

Right now in Pennsylvania, there's a very hotly contested special election that's being seen as sort of a litmus test on how the 2018 midterms are going to go. The Democrat in that race opposes the so-called assault weapons ban, opposes limits on high-capacity magazines. This isn't necessarily about Republicans changing their minds but also about Democrats who want to win races in places where voters tend to support gun rights and how they navigate that and whether they can change the public's mind on these issues.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis - thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.