Rubio downplays gun limits, stresses school safety in Senate speech

Rubio speaks about gun policy on Senate floor

Florida senator Marco Rubio speaks on the Senate floor about U.S. gun policy on March 1, 2018.
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Florida senator Marco Rubio speaks on the Senate floor about U.S. gun policy on March 1, 2018.

In a response on the Senate floor Thursday to the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, Sen. Marco Rubio argued that local law enforcement and school officials could have prevented the massacre in Parkland and urged Congress to pass narrowly tailored bills on school safety and mental health that have support from both parties.

But the Florida Republican barely mentioned guns.

Rubio stopped short of endorsing a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm, instead urging Congress to quickly pass bills related to mental health, school safety and the background check system.

“I will continue to explore additional reforms involving age limits and potentially magazine capacity,” Rubio said, adding that those ideas do not enjoy enough bipartisan support to pass right now. Last week at a CNN townhall meeting televised nationally, Rubio said he would “support a law” that prevents 18-year-olds from legally purchasing guns.

Rubio criticized the response of law enforcement and school officials during his speech, arguing enough safeguards were in place before the shooting to prevent it.

“I actually believe this attack could have and should have been prevented if current law had been enforced,” Rubio said.

The bills Rubio endorsed include the Stop School Violence Act, which was introduced in the House before the shooting by Florida Republican Rep. John Rutherford. The bill, which reauthorizes federal funding for the Secure Our Schools grant program, has the support of Democrats like Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Parkland in Washington.

Other bills touted by Rubio include one that would implement gun violence restraining orders, a bill that improves communication between school districts and local law enforcement, a bill that tweaks the federal background check system without expanding it, and a bill that would prosecute people who try to buy guns when they are barred from doing so.

He also criticized the Broward County PROMISE program, which seeks to cut down on school arrests, and argued it needs to be changed.

“While I do not support criminalizing all school conduct, students who have threatened violence and exhibited violent behavior need to be reported to law enforcement so that appropriate action can be taken,” Rubio said. “Under Broward County School policies pursuant to the PROMISE program, reporting students to law enforcement is step 6 of the plan.”

Rubio said Thursday that proposals to raise the age to purchase firearms and potentially limiting magazine sizes, which he has not taken a firm position on, are too hard to pass as currently drafted in a GOP-controlled Congress. He’s also against a ban on assault weapons, though he didn’t talk about it in his speech.

“These reforms do not enjoy the sort of widespread support in Congress that the other measures announced today enjoy,” Rubio said. “In order to successfully achieve passage of these ideas, they will need to be crafted in a way that actually contributes to greater public safety, while also not unnecessarily or unfairly infringing on the Second Amendment right of all law abiding adults to protect themselves, hunt or participate in recreational shooting.”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty