On Wednesday night, CNN held a town hall event about gun violence in the city of Sunrise, Florida, just miles from where Parkland's grisly mass Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took place. And a certain Republican senator faced much of the community's anger ― right from the start, Marco Rubio was scorched by a grieving father and jeered by a packed auditorium.
This went down during the very first interaction between a member of the audience and one of the elected officials who decided to attend. The questioner was Fred Guttenberg, a father whose daughter was killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, and he began by making a direct, forceful, and very blunt statement to Rubio and to President Donald Trump.
"I want to like you," Guttenberg told Rubio. "Here's the problem, and I'm a brutally honest person, so I'm just gonna 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."
Guttenberg's statement resulted in an extended ovation from the crowd, with many people rising to their feet.
Rubio's response, in effect, was that he "absolutely believed" that people 18 years of age should not be allowed to purchase rifles like the AR-15 the Parkland shooter used, and that the age limit should be raised to 21. But the crowd turned on him when he asserted that a restoration of the assault weapons ban would not have prevented the shooting.
"If I believed that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it,” Rubio said. But he made it clear that he did not, which brought down a hail of boos.
Rubio drew even more fire when he remarked to Democratic Florida senator Bill Nelson that banning assault weapons would require banning "every semiautomatic rifle that's sold in America." This was what you might call an "own-goal," at least as far as the assembled crowd was concerned; they began cheering at Rubio's unwitting suggestion to ban all semiautomatic rifles.
Another scorching moment came when Rubio was challenged by Cameron Kasky, a Stoneman Douglas High School student who's been particularly outspoken and visible among the activists who've emerged from the shooting. Kasky put a pretty simple and straightforward challenge to Rubio, and the Florida senator was unable to reply with similar bluntness.
"Senator Rubio, Kasky said, "can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?"
The question brought the house down, while Rubio's response definitely did not.
"The answer to the question is that people buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment, and I also support the right of you and everybody here to be able to go to school and be safe," Rubio said. "And I do support any law that would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer, and that's why I support the things that I have stood for."
Kasky interjected, asking him again if he'd continue taking money from the NRA. As the crowd reacted, Rubio's answer seemed more than a little tense.
"I, there, that is the wrong way to look at― first of all, the thing is, people buy into my agenda," Rubio replied. Kasky pressed him further, but Rubio simply would not commit to refusing any future NRA donations.
In short, Rubio probably deserves a little bit of credit for actually showing up to the event, knowing the reception he'd likely get ― the state's governor, Rick Scott, notably declined showing up. But from start to finish, as the representative of the Republican Party that's legislated in virtual lockstep with the NRA for years, Rubio got a decidedly hostile reaction from the large town hall crowd.
Rubio was only present for the initial segment of the town hall, as it later gave way to students and members of the community questioning Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. But for the amount of time he was out there, he got a lot of scrutiny and pushback throughout.