In an emotional gathering just one week after a gunman mowed down 14 students and three teachers at Stoneman Douglas High School, thousands of community members and students met with politicians and others for a town hall on how to make schools safer.
The town hall on Wednesday night followed days of sit-ins, walkouts and demonstrations in solidarity with survivors of the massacre.
“Tonight people who have different points of view are going to talk about an issue that I think that we all believe and that this should never have happened and it can never happen again,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, told the crowd.
The shooting reignited the passionate national discussion on gun laws and how to keep communities safe, catalyzing a protest movement led by the young students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed, angrily addressed Rubio, wanting the senator to agree that semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 type used in the shooting were the problem.
“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 to lasting applause and cheers. “Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week.”
Guttenberg called on the senator to do something about guns. Rubio replied, “I’m saying that the problems we are facing here today cannot be solved by gun laws alone.”
Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump, who declined to participate in the town hall, suggested at a listening session at the White House that part of the solution to preventing school shootings could be having some armed, trained teachers on campus.
None of the politicians at the town hall were sympathetic to the thought.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat said, “I think it is a terrible idea.”
Rubio and Rep. Ted Deutch agreed.
Robert Runcie, the Broward County school system superintendent, told the audience beforehand that teachers should be armed with more money.
Student to Rubio: Will you turn down NRA money?
Cameron Kasky, a junior at the school, pressed Rubio to turn down campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
Rubio said he supports the Second Amendment but he also stood for school safety. He wouldn’t say he would turn down an NRA contribution.
“The influence of these groups comes not from money,” he said, “You can ask that question and I can say that people buy into my agenda.”
Sheriff: ‘You will get it done’
Before the event, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel fired up the crowd in the arena, saying, “My generation, we did not get it done. You will get it done.”
Runcie told the students at Stoneman Douglas that they have started a movement.
“These are the young people that are going to change the world for the better. And let me tell you, our students are ready for this moment. They have been preparing for this moment,” he said.
Some of the student participants came straight from the state Capitol in Tallahassee after lobbying state lawmakers for tougher restrictions on weapons like the one used to kill their friends and teachers.
Listening session at White House
Trump held a listening session Wednesday afternoon with those affected by some of the nation’s highest-profile deadly school shootings, from Columbine High School to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
The President pledged to go to work after the meeting ended. “We don’t want others to go through the kind of pain you have gone through. It wouldn’t be right,” he said.
The father of Meadow Pollack, who was killed last week, said he was speaking Wednesday because his daughter couldn’t.
“We as a country failed our children,” Andrew Pollack said.