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Former Parkland Student: I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I’m Begging Him to Act on Guns

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As students protests grow in Florida, we speak to a former intern for Senator Rubio who is also a graduate from Stoneman Douglas High School. Shana Rosenthal just wrote a piece for The New York Times titled “I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I’m Begging Him to Act on Guns.” In the piece, the 21-year-old reveals she has already been near four mass shootings: at Florida State University, Fort Lauderdale airport and the massacres at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at Stoneman Douglas High School last week. She attended the CNN town hall last night.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to cover the fallout from last week’s Valentine’s Day massacre in Florida. We turn now to a former intern for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. She is also a graduate from Stoneman Douglas High School. Shana Rosenthal just wrote a piece for The New York Times. It’s headlined “I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I’m Begging Him to Act on Guns.” In the piece, the 21-year-old reveals she’s already been near four mass shootings: at Florida State University, Fort Lauderdale airport, the massacres at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Stoneman Douglas High School last week. She attended the CNN town hall meeting last night of 7,000 people.

Shana Rosenthal, welcome to Democracy Now! What was last night like?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: Good morning, Amy. Last night was incredibly empowering, to see my community come together and really speak directly to their elected officials.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Marco Rubio did show up. The governor of Florida, Rick Scott, did not come. President Trump was invited to be there in person or to attend by video from the White House. He did not respond. He did not come. But your senator, Marco Rubio, did come. And I wanted to play yet another clip from last night’s town hall, where survivors of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School questioned Republican Senator Marco Rubio. This is Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in Parkland shooting last week.

FRED GUTTENBERG: Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak. So, you and I are now eye to eye, because I want to like you. Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week. And look at me and tell me you accept it and you will work with us to do something about guns.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Now, I think what you’re asking about is the assault weapons ban.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO: So let me be honest with you about that one. If I believed that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it. But I want to explain to you why it would not.

FRED GUTTENBERG: Senator Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas—


FRED GUTTENBERG: —was shot in the back—


FRED GUTTENBERG: —with an assault weapon, the weapon of choice.


FRED GUTTENBERG: OK? It’s too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can’t stand with everybody in this building and say that, I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jamie, gunned down in her high school. Shana Rosenthal, what was your response to your senator, who you interned for? And when did you intern for him?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: First and foremost, Senator Marco Rubio did show up to that town hall meeting. But I do believe it’s our elected officials’ job. They work for us. And they need to take action, and they need to do it now. Now, I interned for him my sophomore year at Florida State University during the fall.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think of his responses? What’s very interesting, and as you pointed out, he did attend this session, and he did answer questions. And it does look like he is changing his position on a number of issues around guns. Were you satisfied?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: It’s a first step. But as you could tell by the voices you heard at the town hall meeting and the community as a whole, it’s not enough. And I think we need to reinforce that by writing letters to our senators, as I did to Senator Marco Rubio. Everyone has an important point of view on this issue. Everyone has a story. And that’s why my sister and I began our Letter to Your Senator campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is that campaign?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: That campaign, you could find us at Letter to Your Senator, where people post letters to their senators on social media, and then they tag their elected officials, and they use a hashtag, #LetterToYourSenator, so, one, we could connect, virtually, while the students are marching out in the streets. If you think, “What can I do?” you could write a letter to your senator, and you can be empowered. And you could use the hashtag and read other people’s stories, and maybe this will keep the conversation going and hold our elected officials accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: To be clear, Marco Rubio was not willing to say he supported an assault weapons ban, although I got the feeling if there were a number of these 7,000-person town halls, he might be on the way. He was not willing to renounce support from the National Rifle Association. You had your—the students from your alma mater, from the Stoneman Douglas High School, going to Tallahassee. When they arrived, the Republican legislators voted—I think, what, 71 people—to not even begin a discussion about an automatic weapons ban. And as CNN pointed out, almost all of them have close to A ratings by the National Rifle Association. President Trump, at his listening session at the White House, where he had survivors from Columbine to the latest Valentine’s Day massacre, he suggested arming teachers. At the opening of last night’s town hall meeting, that you attended, Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie addressed the crowd.

ROBERT RUNCIE: Some of the dialogue that I’ve heard recently is about arming teachers. We don’t need to put guns in the hands of teachers. … You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket. This country plays a lot of lip service to the importance of the teaching profession, but we never put our money behind it. Let teacher compensation, benefits and working conditions be part of this national debate, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie, clearly responding to President Trump, just hours before at his listening session, where Trump was countered by people in the listening session when he called for arming teachers. Shana Rosenthal, what was your response to that proposal?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: To Trump’s proposal?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, to arm your teachers.

SHANA ROSENTHAL: I don’t believe we should be arming our teachers. I believe they are teachers, first and foremost. And to expect them to be armed and protect their students at these great lengths is—it’s sad that it would even have to come to that point. And we should really focus on the main issues. But if that is someone’s point of view and they express that, if they write their letter to their senators expressing that, I think we could begin to understand other people’s point of views. We’re all after the same goal, which is to protect our students, the children of this country. And I believe we deserve more than a quick fix. That’s my view on that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to the White House listening session earlier in the day. This is Florida shooting survivor Alfonso Calderon.

ALFONSO CALDERON: We aren’t being taken seriously enough. Now, I personally don’t know the steps that we’re going to have to take. But once we figure that out, we’re going to take them. And you better believe we’re going to take them as soon as possible, because, although we are just kids, we understand. We know.

We are old enough to understand financial responsibilities. We are old enough to understand why a senator cares about re-election or not. We are old enough to understand why someone might want to discredit us for their own political purposes. But we will not be silenced. It has gone on long enough that we, just because we are kids, we are not allowed to understand.

But, trust me, I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it’s like to text my parents, “Goodbye. I might never, ever get to see you again. I love you.” I understand what it’s like to fear for your life. And I don’t think we should ever be discredited because of that. I don’t think we should ever be silenced because we are just children.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Alfonso Calderon, actually a high school student from the Stoneman Douglas High School, but he was speaking in Tallahassee after the Republicans voted down opening the debate on an automatic weapons ban. The NRA’s Dana Loesch took part in the CNN town hall last night. Here she is being questioned by Linda Biegel Schulman. Her son, Scott Biegel, was a teacher killed in the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: Why are my son’s unalienable rights not protected as fiercely as the right to bear arms?

DANA LOESCH: I am sorry for what you experienced. And I’m not going to—as I said, I’m a parent, but I’ve not been in this position. And as a parent, it terrifies me, to be honest with you.


DANA LOESCH: It’s terrifying. Now, you asked whether it’s a life-or-firearms or life-or-Second Amendment thing. I think that all lives should be protected. All lives should be protected. That’s why next week there’s going to be good guys with guns that are going to be in school protecting lives, just as there’s armed security here. We are in the presence of firearms protecting lives. This isn’t a you—if you believe in your right to self-defense, you hate kids, or if you believe in your right to self-defense, you don’t believe that people have the right to live. That’s not what this issue is. This issue is about making sure that we’re protecting innocent lives. No innocent lives should be lost. None of them should.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: When the Second Amendment was ratified, they were talking about muskets. We’re not talking about muskets. We’re talking about assault weapons. We’re talking about weapons that—of mass destruction that kill people.

DANA LOESCH: On that issue, at the time, there were fully automatic firearms that were available: the Belton gun and the Puckle gun. And, in fact, the Continental Congress reviewed a purchase of one of those firearms for the—

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: Doesn’t make it right.

DANA LOESCH: Well, what I’m saying is there was more than just muskets available. We don’t say that no one has a right to free speech because of Twitter or social media. But the point that you raise—and I think it’s a good one, and I know what you’re saying. And, believe me, I understand that. I think all innocent lives should be protected. I don’t think that you should have ever had to gone through that. If I could change time and change circumstances, I would have done everything in my power to prevent that.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: I think you have that power.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the NRA’s Dana Loesch, who is a former right-wing radio host, taking part in the CNN town hall. She’s a spokesperson for the NRA, being questioned by Linda Biegel Schulman. Her son, Scott Biegel, was a teacher who was saved many and was killed in the Valentine’s Day massacre. I wanted to turn right now to the NRA’s ad. In June, they produced a recruitment video, which came under fire from liberals and conservatives for stoking violence. The video was narrated by conservative television host, yes, the woman who was there last night, Dana Loesch.

DANA LOESCH: They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance—all to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding, until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness. And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the NRA Television has announced they will be launching a new show in March hosted by Dana Loesch. And right before the town hall meeting, they released a statement saying that the NRA is rejecting proposals to raise the minimum age for purchasing rifles. So, Shana Rosenthal, you have a major force that has captured many politicians, Republican and Democrat, has them in their crosshairs if they ever dare step out of line. What about this new movement of young people, that you are a part of, student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing and others? What is your response?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: The students are absolutely inspiring and incredible. And I think what’s unique about this is that, one, the victims are within a succinct community, which it’s—I don’t want to say easier, but the collective action is strong. And also, it’s students who can speak up, who are tomorrow’s voters, tomorrow’s leaders. And that’s why it’s unique. And it has sparked something across the nation, and which parents are joining, which neighbors are joining. And they have inspired everyone. And they’ve inspired me.

AMY GOODMAN: Shana, it sounds like the namesake of the school—the school was named for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who was a true crusader, iconoclast. She was a suffragist, fighting for women’s right to vote, a civil rights activist. And she was considered the “Grande Dame of the Everglades,” a great environmentalist, saving the Everglades, which your community, Parkland, is right next to. Do you see yourself and other students following in her footsteps, as she took on the entrenched developer and business interests?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: Of course, I definitely see. You’ve heard it all before, our motto at our school: “Be passionate. Be proud to be an Eagle.” And that’s exactly what is embedded in the Parkland community. That’s what’s embedded in Marjory Stoneman Douglas. And I have to say, it’s embedded in the surrounding area, the greater area of South Florida. Students—I live right around the corner from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and every day I hear students marching from other schools all the way to Douglas. And I think it’s beautiful and incredible, what they are doing on the ground. We need to compliment that. We need to write letters. We need to march alongside them. We need to do whatever we can to support these students.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Shana Rosenthal, for being with us, former intern for Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. By the way, did he respond to your letter to him in The New York Times? You were his intern.

SHANA ROSENTHAL: I have not gotten a response yet, but that is why I’m going to great lengths to get a response. And that’s just mimicking what my community is doing. They’ve gone through great lengths to get a response, as well. And I think the town hall was a first step in that. And I hope we can continue this conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Shana is a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And we’ll link to your piece, “I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I’m Begging Him to Act on Guns.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the horror that is Syria, a roundtable discussion. Stay with us.

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