Three and a half weeks ago, Marco Rubio walked into an arena of 7,000 grieving Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents, teachers and alumni with a message: Young adults should not be able to buy rifles.
“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,” the Florida Republican said at the town hall event in response to a question from Fred Guttenberg, a Parkland father whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the shooting.
On Friday, hours before Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that would ban the sale of all guns to adults between the ages of 18 and 21, Rubio qualified his stance on what kinds of guns young adults should be able to buy.
In two television interviews, Rubio stated that young adults should be able to buy shotguns and bolt-action rifles.
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A CBS reporter asked Rubio if he had made up his mind on statements he made during the town hall about banning gun sales to young adults and considering a ban on high-capacity magazines.
“To be clear, I said all semiautomatic rifles. I think bolt-action, hunting rifles and shotguns and things of that nature is not what we’re talking about,” Rubio said. “The state of Florida has actually done that and I am willing to support something that does that.”
The reporter later followed up on banning gun sales for young adults.
“Just to be clear, the bill that the Florida Legislature just passed would raise the age for all gun purchases from 18 to 21, yes or no, you support that?” CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell said.
“I would prefer that it not include shotguns and bolt-action rifles,” Rubio said. “But let me be clear about one thing for people who are concerned about this, it’s not possession, so you can be 19 years old and use your father’s rifle to go hunting. You just can’t be the owner, you can’t go in and buy it yourself. That’s an important distinction.”
Rubio spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said Rubio’s comments on Friday did not represent a change in his position from his comments during the town hall.
“It’s important to remember the context of the town hall, which was about an assault weapons ban — he was using the term ‘rifle’ in that regard,” Perez-Cubas said in an email. “Bolt action and shotguns are not semi-automatic. As he’s said consistently ... he supports raising the age but would want to see exemptions for bolt action, shotguns and for people who hunt.”
The Florida Legislature’s gun bill was supported by the families of all 17 Parkland shooting victims.
Rubio was also asked about a ban on gun sales for young adults on Fox News.
“My view on that is I’m open to supporting, I’ve said I would support, as long as it’s not shotguns and bolt-action rifles and the like,” Rubio said. “But I’d also remind everybody that in this case he [Cruz] was 19, but in almost all of these mass shootings the person was well over 21 years of age, so we’ve got to be careful about overselling what it would do.”
Young adults under 21 are not allowed to purchase handguns, but Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 rifle used in the Parkland shooting after he turned 18.
Last week, Rubio announced a five-part legislative response to Parkland that includes funding school security measures, implementing gun violence restraining orders, improving communication between school districts and local law enforcement, tweaking the federal background check system without expanding it, and prosecuting people who try to buy guns when they are barred from doing so.