Fred Guttenberg couldn’t sit down.
His 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was murdered by a former student on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and he stood before a dozen Democratic U.S. senators on Wednesday, voice trembling, as he laid out his demands.
After finishing his prepared remarks, which included a plea to pass an assault-weapons ban and a threat to vote out lawmakers who refuse to change gun laws, Guttenberg’s fist shook. He raised a picture of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, a screen shot from a recent video where Loesch turned over an hourglass and declared that “time is running out” for those who stand in the way of the influential gun lobby.
“If this was put out by a terrorist organization, we would be raising the terror threat level in this country,” Guttenberg said.
His emotional testimony was part of a hearing organized by Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t announce any hearings with parents and survivors of some of the nation’s worst mass shootings, so Democrats staged their own.
The witnesses included people affected by gun violence from Parkland, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, three of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Most of the hearing was dominated by the personal stories of fathers, mothers and siblings whose lives were upended by gun violence.
David Hogg, a Parkland student who has become one of the most prominent national voices opposing gun violence in recent weeks, joined the hearing via Skype. He laid out a five-point legislative plan he says will decrease the chances of a future mass school shooting: allowing the federal government to research gun violence, digitizing records of gun sales, establishing universal background checks on all gun purchases, banning high-capacity magazines and banning assault-style weapons.
“Now is the time we need to take action, because how many more children need to be slaughtered?” Hogg said.
But Democrats are in the minority in both chambers, and any law to change the nation’s gun laws will need the support of President Donald Trump or a supermajority in Congress.
A press conference with Florida’s two senators hours before the hearing illustrated just how far apart many Democrats and Republicans are on guns.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson on Wednesday unveiled a gun violence restraining order bill, legislation that would encourage states to let law enforcement and close family members obtain a court order that would prevent someone from buying or possessing a gun in limited circumstances.
Nelson, a Democrat, called the bill, which aims to encourage states to implement gun violence restraining orders, a “first step.” He wants universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.
“I personally have been searching for things that we can do quickly ... what can we agree on,” said Rubio, a Republican who does not support expanded background checks and banning assault weapons.
Rubio’s legislation has the support of Democrats, including Nelson and a number of House Democrats, but none of Rubio’s five pieces of legislation proposed after the shooting align with Hogg’s five legislative demands.
“These are things that have broad support,” Rubio said of the bills he’s pushing, which would fund school security measures, improve communication between school districts and local law enforcement, tweak the federal background check system without expanding it, and prosecute people who try to buy guns when they are barred from doing so.
Rubio added that passing bipartisan bills “creates a level of momentum” for future legislation.
“I actually think that if you begin to do the things you agree on, it creates a level of momentum that allows you to keep going and doing more,” Rubio said.
Nelson continued to give Rubio credit for showing up at a CNN town hall event — taking a jab at his likely 2018 opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, who did not attend the town hall. Guttenberg attended the town hall as well, and in an exchange with Rubio, the senator said he would “support a law” that keeps anyone under 21 from legally purchasing a firearm.
But two weeks after Guttenberg and Rubio’s intense conversation on national television, the emotions are still raw.
When Nelson asked Guttenberg at the hearing Wednesday how to keep people’s attention on guns after the March for Our Lives scheduled for March 24, he pounded his fist on the table.
“Do not let it become a political moment,” Guttenberg said, referring to a tweet by Trump, on the same day of Guttenberg’s daughter’s funeral, that tied the FBI’s inadequate response to Parkland to the ongoing Russia investigation.
“I understand you had a lot of colleagues who didn’t want to be here today,” Guttenberg said. “We should take the pressure from outside and bring it in.”
Two hours later, he was still standing.