The name-calling of Sen. Marco Rubio by a gun-control group started by media mogul and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg intensified on Thursday after the Florida Republican helped defeat a congressional measure expanding background checks for nearly all firearm buyers.
The leader of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group in Rubio’s home county of Miami-Dade, Democratic Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, said at a Thursday news conference that the Florida senator’s vote the day before was all about his ambitions for the White House in 2016.
And, Lerner said, Rubio’s position on guns will cost him dearly when he runs again for office.
“Your position and your vote yesterday put you on shaky ground with 94 percent of Floridians,” Lerner said, citing a poll paid for by the group that showed overwhelming support for universal background checks.
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“You are a coward Sen. Rubio,” she said. “You are afraid to stand up to the gun lobby and to stand up for your constituents. Instead, you stood up for the NRA. Shame on you.”
Rubio’s office declined to comment.
Rubio said recently that he opposed expanded background checks because they don’t work.
Those who buy firearms from licensed dealers must get a background check, but there’s an exemption for private sales. Some of those private sales can occur at gun shows, which is why the exemption is known as the “gun-show loophole.”
Rubio said if gun-control advocates are concerned about mentally-ill people and criminals getting guns, they should work toward improving the mental-health system and society at large.
“We are missing a golden opportunity to have an open, honest, and serious conversation about why it is that we are having these horrific violent acts occurring in our society,” Rubio said Sunday on CNN.
As a state lawmaker, Rubio voted for every major gun-rights law that made it before him: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law expanding the use of lethal force; a law allowing certain employees to bring firearms locked in their cars to work; and a measure banning police from keeping lists of gun purchases at pawn shops.
Some of those measures were advocated and even drafted by former state Sen. Rod Smith, who just finished a stint as the Florida Democratic Party chairman and who maintained that lawmakers with positive gun-rights records face little backlash at the polls from gun-control advocates.
“Gun-rights voters vote guns,” Smith once said.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns and President Barack Obama’s political machine are trying to change that.
The mayors group earlier this month made modest advertising buys in the Orlando and Tampa media markets criticizing Rubio for his position on guns, saying it makes people less safe.
The group wouldn’t disclose whether it plans to spend significant sums of money to defeat Rubio. He’s up for re-election in 2016 but could launch a White House bid. He can’t run for both offices simultaneously in the general election.
Early polls indicate Rubio is a Republican frontrunner, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would soundly defeat him nationwide and in his home state of Florida.
Also, by getting Republicans to repeatedly oppose popular measures — such as background checks for any gun buyer — Democrats hope to paint conservatives as extremists or sellouts.
“I served with Marco Rubio in the Legislature and I know him,” said Lerner, the Pinecrest mayor. “Everything he does is a political calculation.”