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
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 going to get back to it. And since – and I just want to respond to something Senator Rubio said because – because he told us a lot about – about his views on the assault weapons ban.
And I would just simply say this, if there is a problem with the assault weapons ban – which, by the way, when it expired let’s be clear, mass shootings went up 200 percent in the decade after the assault weapons ban expired. But if there was a problem with the way that was written, if there were too many loopholes for – for people trying to get around it to utilize, then let’s bring up the assault weapons ban and close all those loopholes so that we have bill that keeps people safe.
RUBIO: And Gabe (ph) rose (ph) actually (ph) that is an excellent question. And I want to answer that one, if I may. I know it’s not a debate but this is an important point, it really is because it – it is an issue that I want people to understand more about. First of all, it didn’t take – I appreciate your words. It didn’t – being here tonight is not courage. Courage is what you did, and what you guys are doing, and what those teachers and administrators that – that’s courage.
And, Ted (ph), you talked to your story a moment ago. You know, I – I will tell you that what you’ve done in this effort, irrespective of we may have a different view on something, that’s courage. That’s real courage. Now on the issue that you’ve raised about the background checks, relate directly to what you said about the – about the assault weapons ban. It’s not the loopholes. It’s the problem that once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in the U.S.
RUBIO: Fair enough. Fair enough, that – that is a valid position to hold, but my colleagues do not support banning every semi-automatic rifle sold in America.
DEUTCH: I – I believe – I believe that the idea that a gunman like this could march down the halls of Stoneman Douglas High School and fire off 150 rounds in six or seven minutes, that gun should be banned. There is no reason why anybody should own one of those.
RUBIO: And that is a very valid point. But my point is that under the law that you support, there would still be 2,000 guns that were legal that could do the exact same thing.
DEUTCH: Well then let’s sit down and figure out what they are so that we can ensure people (ph) –
RUBIO: I know, but what I – look, this is an important discussion because now you’re seeing what the debate is about the assault weapons ban. And I just ask, will you ban – are you in favor of banning any gun that can do what the AR-15 can do?
DEUTCH: – I –
RUBIO: Yes or no?
DEUTCH: – I – I am in favor, Senator Rubio. If you have a concern about – let me just answer this question because it’s important.
RUBIO: It is, that’s the whole debate.
DEUTCH: Yes, and the – and the answer to the question is, do I support weapons that fire-off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can, you bet I am.
RUBIO: That’s important to know. And I want – that is a very fair position to hold, the – so you – and I just want you to understand, that goes well beyond the bill that’s before us now.
DEUTCH: Well then sit with me and let’s come up with something that you support.
RUBIO: OK. I would – I would – I’d like to let Senator Nelson into this conversation as well. Yes, I – I only raised that, not to get into a debate – and I – and I want Senator Nelson to speak, of course. I just want to say that I – the reason why I raised that point is so you understand, that is what the debate is about. It is about the fact that there are over – virtually every rifle sold in America today, can do what that gun does. We – and – and –
DEUTCH: That’s not true.
RUBIO: – it is true. It’s absolutely –
DEUTCH: Senator Nelson.
RUBIO: – I’m sorry, go ahead.
NELSON: Let me tell you about the bill that I have co-sponsored. 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 at and that you all are suffering so terribly from.
TAPPER: Thank you, thank you…
NELSON: And so it can in fact be defined if you’re very specific, and that’s the bill that I’m a co-sponsor of.
TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.
I want to bring in senior Ryan Deitsch. He has a question for Senator Rubio.
DEITSCH: First, I’d just like to say to Senator Rubio: Thank you so much for coming out here. I know, especially everybody that I’ve been working with over the past week, we’ve just really wanted to reach out and speak face to face to anybody who has a say in this debate.
And I know this is not a debate. This is a discussion. But I’m just thankful to have you here, to be looking at you today. Thank you so much, sir, for coming.
Now – now I’d like to say, Senator, these drills, code reds, active shooters, they’ve been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
When I was in fifth grade, I had to hide in the – in a – in a bathroom for three – for three hours, and just waiting with my teacher and nearly 20 other kids, to see that – just because a shooter has come to our town. Not even in the school itself.
Now, seven years later, I’m in a closet with 19 other kids, waiting, fearing for my own life. Now I’d like to ask you that, after me and several others have been going out of their way, going to the state capital, speaking out, we – we’d like to know, Why do we have to be the ones to do this? Why do we have to speak out to the capital.
Why do we have to march on Washington, just to save innocent lives?
RUBIO: I agree.
RUBIO: You’re right. You’re – you’re absolutely right. And let me start by saying – and it goes without saying – that what you’ve lived through and what you live through is not supposed to be a part of your high school experience. It’s just not supposed to happen.
The second thing I would say is that it is unfortunate that, in this country, we haven’t been able to make progress on any major issue for a lot of different reasons, and this being one of them.
But you have do – you do have a chance to change it. I really believe it. But the change that we are going to have to figure out, how people that have strong feelings on both sides can agree on things. And I think you are making progress. I can tell you what’s already happening, as a result of your advocacy.
For example, I’ve already announced – and I hope they will pass it. I really think they will, and they should – a concept called the Gun Violence Restraining Order, that allows authorities – and it has to be someone in your immediate family.
It has to be somebody you live with, it has to be your parent, it has to be an administrator – can go to authorities and allow someone to not just be prevented from purchasing any firearm, OK? Not just the rifle. Any firearm. And allow those to be taken from them, and that person will have due process.
Because I believe that if that were in place in Florida, and it – I – about three states already have it – it could have prevented this from happening. And I support that, and I hope they will pass that. And I think that is a result of your advocacy.
DEITSCH: If I may, I – I do appreciate your words there. But that feels like the first step of a 5K run.
RUBIO: It most certainly is.
I would say it’s more than a 5K run…
… this issue – this issue will take more than a 5K run because there’s so much to do. But that is an important step. And if that happens in the next three weeks, it’ll be because of what you guys have done.
And it won’t end there. On Monday of this week, I believe we’re going to try, Senator Nelson and I, to pass the FixNICS Act, which is fixing the background check system. Because the background check is only as good as the information that’s on it.
And one of the problems we have – and this is going to be an uncomfortable discussion for our country – we’re going to have to look at HIPAA laws, when it comes to certain things. Because right now, they can’t – these people can’t even talk to each other if someone is under psychiatric care or something’s going on in their lives. That’s going to have to be fixed.
And what I’m saying is – what you’re doing now is making a difference, it is making a difference. It’s already started to make a difference. I believe it can and will make a difference if this doesn’t end here, because the way we were in this country today, and I don’t mean that as a criticism of you, Jake, but the cameras will leave, and the issues move on, but the heartbreak will remain.
And so if we truly want this to be the last time, then what you have done cannot end next week or next month or even next year, but I do believe at the end of the three-week session in Tallahassee, you’ve achieved that restraining order and a few other important things that I believe they’re thinking about doing, I would take that, I would herald it as a victory, and I would continue the momentum moving forward until we make sure no community in America will ever have to have a forum like the one here tonight.
TAPPER: Thank you, Ryan. President Trump said today that we should consider arming teachers. We’ll hear what a Stoneman Douglas teacher things about that, next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN’s Town Hall with the students and faculty and family members of Stoneman Douglas High School. I want to bring in right now Ashley Kirth. She’s a culinary arts teacher at Stoneman Douglas.
TAPPER: For those of you at home who don’t know, because I think Everybody in this room knows, she sheltered 65 students in her Classroom during the shoot out.
TAPPER: Ashley, thank you so much. She has a question for Senator Rubio.
ASHLEY KURTH: Senator Rubio, I’m a registered Republican. I voted for Mr. Trump. I still, you know, support the 2nd Amendment. However, with that being said and with all these talks of gun control laws and everything that you guys have been up there saying to us about what you’re going to do about it, a lot of the flack that I’ve been getting back from my friends and from a lot of other people that are around the world is, the answer to the gun problem is to arm teachers.
And 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? On - - on how to be these eloquent speakers that are coming up and presenting issues to you? I - - 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 (audio gap) that way?
RUBIO: Well first, I don’t support that.
I - - I think I join everyone here in saying what you’ve done is incredible heroism. It reminds us that teachers are heroes everyday. Not just on these days investing in the lives of all of our students. And I think that bears thanks.
I - - I don’t and I don’t support that and I - - I would admit you right now I answer that as much as a father as I do as a Senator. The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with. Beyond it, I think it has practical problems, and I’ll share what they are. And this is really about the safety of the teachers as much as anything else.
Imagine in the middle of this crisis and the SWAT team comes into the building and there’s an adult with a weapon in their hands and the SWAT team doesn’t know who is who and we have an additional tragedy that was unnecessary. And so, I - - I understand how some people are saying that and I’m not belittling them. But as a father and as someone who has talked to plenty of teachers including the three in my family and the assistant principal in my family. I - - I don’t think that would be a good idea in my view.
KURTH: The first thing that happened when the SWAT team came in, the first question they asked is anybody injured, and the following question is does anybody have a gun. And I wouldn’t want to be the person saying, yes, I do.
RUBIO: I agree with you. Yes ma’am.
TAPPER: Senator Nelson, President Trump suggested earlier today that - - that he thought arming teachers might be an idea worth considering. Do you think it is?
NELSON: I think it is a terrible idea.
You know, I was so impressed on the TV of the students, what they were saying to the President, and then the President comes out with suggestions like that.
You heard what the superintendent said. He doesn’t want to have to arm teachers. Now - - now the sheriff came up with a suggestion that he’s going to have a deputy that will be armed, but that deputy can’t be in all of your buildings in a school of 3,000 students.
It will help if it’s a deterrent. It is good. But, if the weapon is a high caliber, rapid fire assault weapon, it is hard to go into a fight against that if you’ve got just a handgun. That’s not a fair fight. So get the assault weapons out.
TAPPER: I want to bring in –
I want to bring in Robert Schentrup. Robert lost his sister Carmen in the shooting last week. She was 16. She was a National Merit Semi-finalist. Robert’s question is for Congressman Deutch. Robert.
ROBERT SCHENTRUP: Congressman Deutch, today would have been Carmen’s 17th birthday. But sadly, we are having to celebrate her life instead of celebrating what a new year might bring. My question is, if a majority of Americans has long supported stricter gun control regulations, but our elected officials who are supposed to represent the people have done nothing, does this mean that our democracy is broken?