Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez (C) comforts a classmate during a CNN town hall meeting. Pool Photo by Michael Laughlin/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Thousands of community members and students gathered Wednesday for a town hall discussion on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida high school.
Students, parents and teachers asked Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and Rep. Ted Deutch what action they will take to ban assault weapons, enforce stricter background checks and increase school security at the televised event moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper.
They also questioned National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch about the organization's stance on the system for purchasing firearms.
Seventeen people were killed in Feb. 14 when a former student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with an assault rifle and opened fire. Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the shooting, asked Rubio to agree that rifles like the AR-15 used in the shooting "were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week."
"I'm saying that the problems we are facing here today cannot be solved by gun laws alone," Rubio said.
Rubio, who was booed by the crowd several times during the discussion, said he supported legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm, ban bump stocks and to make changes to the background system.
"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," he said.
Rubio said he doesn't support a ban on assault rifles due to "loopholes" that allow guns that function in similar ways to remain legal.
"If I believed that that law would've prevented this from happening I would've supported it," he said.
Nelson called for "common sense solutions" such as getting assault rifles off the streets.
Deutch said he and other legislators will introduce legislation to make sure that assault weapons are illegal in every part of this country when they return to Washington next week.
"I support banning 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," he said.
Loesch, who was also jeered by the crowd, said the NRA is awaiting a Department of Justice decision on the legality of bump stocks when asked by Douglas student Emma Gonzalez about the ease of acquiring automatic weapons and devices to modify them.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel challenged Loesch to take action limiting weapons.
"You just told this group of people that you are standing up for them," he said. "You're not standing up for them until you say, I want less weapons."
When asked what lawmakers will do to strengthen background checks, Nelson suggested closing the so-called "gun show loophole" which doesn't require a background check when a firearm is purchased at a gun show if it isn't being sold by a licensed federal dealer.
"There is no requirement of a criminal background check. That's one thing that can be done, not only in Florida, but that can be done in Washington, as well," he said.
Loesch referred to the shooter as "nuts" and an "insane monster" who she said shouldn't have been able to purchase a firearm.
"He shouldn't have been able to get a firearm. He should have been barred from getting a firearm," she said. "People who are crazy should not be able to get firearms. People who are dangerous to themselves and other individuals should not be able to obtain a firearm."
Israel said the sheriff's office is conducting an investigation into tips it received about the shooter to determine if they were mishandled.
"If we made a mistake, I'll act accordingly and deal with it," he said. "The person responsible is the agent or the detective or the person who received the tip and didn't exercise their due diligence and took it where they needed to be."
Earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he and legislators will discuss the idea of allowing teachers with firearm experience to carry concealed weapons on campus during remarks at a listening session with survivors of the shooting.
Ashley Kurth, a culinary instructor at Douglas who sheltered nearly 70 students during the shooting, questioned whether she will be expected to receive firearm training and keep a bulletproof vest in the classroom.
Nelson said arming faculty is a "terrible idea." Rubio also said he didn't support the idea.
"The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something I'm comfortable with," he said.
Israel, who ordered all deputies in schools in Broward County to carry rifles on school grounds earlier Wednesday, said he also opposed arming teachers.
"I don't believe teachers should be armed. I believe teachers should teach," he said.
Cameron Kasky, a student the school, asked Rubio to turn down future campaign donations from the NRA.
Rubio said he would not, adding he supports the Second Amendment but he stands for school safety.
"The influence of these groups comes not from money.You can ask that question and I can say that people buy into my agenda," Rubio said. "I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda."
Prior to the town hall discussion, Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie said he was inspired by the movement started by Douglas students.
"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.