Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) seemed to score a remarkable own goal during CNN’s gun violence town hall on Wednesday, when he mentioned the possibility of an assault weapons ban as though it would be a very bad thing — and the crowd erupted in cheers.
“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 America,” Rubio said, as the crowd broke out in a roar.
“Fair enough, fair enough, fair enough, that is a valid position to hold,” Rubio responded. “But my colleagues do not support banning every semi-automatic rifle sold in America.”
While the moment may have seemed to reflect a profound change in the politics of gun control, conservative commentators argued that reaction of a group of people who just lived through a school shooting is not reflective of America more broadly.
“That’s not an own goal, it’s an image that millions upon millions of law-abiding gun-owners will see and rightly react against,” the National Review’s David French tweeted. “Those are cheers for the revocation of a civil liberty that’s essential to our constitutional republic.”
After the event, Rubio — who was jeered throughout the night whenever he started defending AR-15s, the semi-automatic weapon used to kill 17 people last week during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — indicated he agreed.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 22, 2018
But Rubio’s spin is at odds with the polling. Depending on which one you look at, post-Parkland, support for some type of assault weapons ban has surged to somewhere between 50 and 67 percent. And while the NRA opposes it, there’s good reason to believe that banning some semi-automatic weapons would decrease mass shootings — gun massacres fell drastically when the previous assault weapons ban was in place between 1994 and 2004, then rose again once it expired.
The assault weapons ban backed by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other Democrats would ban a number of semi-automatic weapons, including the AR-15 — but not all of them. Rubio alluded to that distinction when he said that “my colleagues do not support banning every semi-automatic rifle sold in America.”
During another part of Wednesday’s town hall, Rubio — who has received $3,303,355 from the NRA in campaign contributions since took office in 2012 — indicated he’s now at least open to considering restrictions on “magazine clip size.” Even that would be helpful, as research indicates that a key provision of the successful 1990s assault weapons ban was its ban on high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.