Emotions were high at Wednesday’s (Feb. 21) town hall where survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland addressed Florida lawmakers and the National Rifle Association about gun control.
Hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and Rep. Ted Deutch were present to have what hoped to be a fluid conversation with students and residents of Broward County. The discussion turned in a debate several times as students poised straight-forward questions about gun reform and lawmakers’ friendships with the NRA.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed by the hands of gunman Nikolas Cruz, addressed Rubio and his previous comments on protecting gun laws. “Sen. Rubio, I want to like you. Here’s the problem. … Your comments this week and those of our President have been pathetically weak,” he said. “Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week.”
Student survivor Cameron Kasky also asked Rubio to stop taking donations from the NRA to which Rubio replied, “The influence of these groups comes not from money.” He added, “You can ask that question and I can say that people buy into my agenda.” Loesch deflected several questions by students while placing the blame for the shooting solely on Cruz. “I don’t believe this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm,” Loesch said.
Rubio promised a number of things to students like strengthening background checks, banning bump stocks and limiting magazine stocks.
In the end, it seemed like many of the students didn’t get the answers they hoped for. “It was more of a debate than a discussion,” Avery Anger told reporters. The 14-year-old hid in a closet during the Feb. 14 shooting. “I don’t feel like they answered the questions.”
Those watching at home also felt the same.
.@NRA lobbyist Dana Loesch blaming mental illness for violent crime. People with mental illness commit less than 5% of violent crimes. They are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.
CNN Town Hall
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) February 22, 2018
I'm not enlightened enough to feel no judgmental thoughts towards the NRA representative at the CNN Town Hall meeting. I'm praying for that, but right now I can only I hope America isn't buying a word that she is saying.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) February 22, 2018
Sen. Marco Rubio should be congratulated for having the balls to go to the CNN town hall meeting. But you’ve taken money from the NRA & your opinions this week have been weak. You’re a professional politician who doesn’t give a damn about getting assault weapons off our streets.
— Susan Mintz (@smintz7179) February 22, 2018
One student absent from the town hall was Colton Haab. The teen told WPLG-TV he decided not to attend the town all after CNN reportedly gave him scripted questions for the discussion. “CNN had originally asked me to write a speech and questions and it ended up being all scripted,” Haab said.
Haab, a member of the Junior ROTC, shielded fellow students from gunfire. He wanted to suggest veterans to work in schools but after his points were ignored, he decided not to attend. “I expected to be able to ask my questions and give my opinion on my questions,” said Haab.”I don’t think that it’s going get anything accomplished,” he concluded. “It’s not gonna ask the true questions that all the parents and teachers and students have.”
CNN has denied the claims. “There is absolutely no truth to this,” said Richard Hudock, CNN’s senior manager of public relations in a statement to The Hill. “CNN did not provide or script questions for anyone in last night’s town hall, nor have we ever. After seeing an interview with Colton Haab, we invited him to participate in our town hall along with other students and administrators from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Colton’s father withdrew his name from participation before the forum began, which we regretted but respected.”
The outlet also released a statement on their social channels.
CNN response to the claim of a "scripted question" for last night's town hall: pic.twitter.com/Mz1hMqqfkw
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) February 22, 2018