U.S. Rep. Val Demings returned fire at Sen. Marco Rubio’s repeated assertion that she has been a “do-nothing Democrat” in Congress, using the same phrase Monday to describe his inaction on gun violence.
Standing in front of 3,000 vases spread across Bayfront Park in downtown Miami that are part of a new memorial by gun control advocacy group Gifford Courage — each vase representing a Floridian who died in a shooting last year — Demings took aim at Rubio, whom she’s running to unseat next year, in her first Miami appearance since announcing her 2022 Senate bid.
“Why doesn’t Sen. Marco Rubio support universal background checks? We can do better, (and) doing nothing is not an option,” she said. “My opponent has had many opportunities but chose to put the interest of the (National Rifle Association), the gun lobby, above the interest and safety of Floridians. That’s just a fact.”
Demings said, “Can’t we do more than stand at a podium, go to the Senate Floor, stand up and offer thoughts and prayers? I believe we can do more. The 3,000 families represented here deserve more. The future victims of gun violence deserve more than thoughts and prayers.”
A former police officer who served for four years as Orlando’s first woman Chief of Police, Demings visited Miami for the unveiling and to accept an endorsement from Giffords Courage.
The organization’s founder, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, attended the event alongside former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and activist parent Stacey Wesch.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Giffords, who was critically injured in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson in which she was the intended target. “We can protect our families, our future. We can be on the right (side) of history.”
Wesch, whose daughter survived the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, noted that more than 14,300 children have either been killed or injured with a firearm since 2018.
“We are failing them, and we need to do better,” she said. “To do this, we need to vote the correct people into office.”
To his credit, Rubio this year again introduced the Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act, which he has repeatedly sponsored since the Parkland tragedy that killed 17 and injured another 17. The bill mirrors a similarly named bill the Florida Legislature enacted in 2018.
Rubio introduced other bills concerning the issue as well, including the bipartisan NICS Denial Notification Act to help states prevent illegal firearm purchases and the STOP School Violence Act to federally fund school efforts to identify potential threats.
He also met with Parkland survivors and parents in a CNN town hall one week after the shooting, where he among other things said he would support raising the federal age limit on buying rifles, reconsider the size of gun magazines and opposed then-President Donald Trump‘s proposal to arm teachers.
Still, his overall effort to proffer and back bills tackling gun violence has been sparse, as evidenced by his A+ rating with the NRA Political Victory Fund.
Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was shot and killed outside of his home in Ecuador more than two decades ago, shared troubling statistics to emphasize more needs to be done.
She said the murder rate in 2020 rose by 29%, with the greatest percentage of homicides involving guns, adding that firearm-related violence disproportionately impacts low-income and minority communities, particularly Black and Hispanic communities, which accounted for 85% of the increase in gun violence across nine major U.S. cities last year.
The majority of Americans are in favor of more restrictions and safeguards, Mucarsel-Powell said, pointing to a survey by Giffords Courage showing that 86% of Floridians regardless of party affiliation support the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 — including 97% of Democrats, 82% of Republicans and 82% of gun owners — and another 72% who wouldn’t vote for a candidate against background checks.
Demings has legislated and voted where Rubio has not in order to better protect American citizens, Mucarsel-Powell said before going down a list of Demings’ actions to stem gun violence.
Among them: introducing the Law Enforcement Protection Act to regulate armor-piercing weapons, voting for universal background checks, voting for the Violence Against Women Act, backing legislation to fund community violence intervention programs and efforts to designate the Pulse nightclub in Orlando as a national memorial.
“At the federal level, we know we can make our nation safer if more leaders have the courage to put lives above gun industry profits,” she said. “Sen. Marco Rubio, you have been warned … Floridians don’t want a spineless Senator that will not stand up to the gun lobby. (It’s) easy to sit back and do nothing when you’re receiving more than $3 million from the NRA for your political campaign.”