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Despite recent rhetoric, Rubio eyes only modest reforms on guns

On gun policy, there seems to be a gap between Marco Rubio's ambitions and Marco Rubio's legislation.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn't appear to enjoy the recent CNN forum on gun violence, where the Republican lawmaker was confronted with angry constituents who saw him as part of the problem. What's more, there's no reason to believe the forum's audience was some kind of political aberration: a Quinnipiac poll released last week found Rubio's approval rating in Florida dropping to just 38%.

These are the kind of conditions that tend to push politicians toward action, and with this in mind, Rubio unveiled new legislation on the issue last week. "We can do this," the GOP lawmaker said. "What happened in Parkland doesn't have to happen again. If we can work together, put aside our differences and focus on meaningful legislation that curbs gun violence -- we can make real progress."

Those are the kind of words one might ordinarily expect from someone advocating sweeping changes to the nation's gun laws. But there seems to be a gap between Rubio's bold vision and Rubio's legislation.

Eight days ago, Marco Rubio endorsed raising the age requirement for buying a rifle from 18 to 21 and voiced openness to placing limits on the size of ammunition magazines.On Thursday, when the Republican senator from Florida unveiled his plan to address gun violence, he did not outline any specific plans on these very divisive fronts.

Why not aim higher and include some of the popular measures discussed at the recent forum? "These reforms do not enjoy the sort of widespread support in Congress that the other measures I've announced do," Rubio said Thursday.

But that's not really what leadership looks like. Raising the age requirement, for example, is broadly popular with the public, and has received praise from, among others, Donald Trump. Rubio could take advantage of this dynamic, push for the idea he seems to support, and try to rally support from his Capitol Hill colleagues.

He doesn't want to.

So what is in Rubio's plan? The Washington Post's report added that Rubio's blueprint features "less controversial measures," including freeing up more federal dollars to beef up school security and create 'crisis interventions teams'; creating gun violence restraining orders; pressing school districts to promptly alert law enforcement to dangerous behavior; passing a bipartisan bill to tighten the National Instant Background Check System; and mandating the FBI notify states when a prohibited person tries to buy a gun and fails the requisite background check."

To be sure, there's nothing wrong with these modest measures. That said, they're short of what Rubio voiced support for at the Florida forum, and there's no reason to believe the Republican-led Senate will actually tackle efforts like these anytime soon.

It's worth pausing from time to time to note that in a 51-49 Senate, a member like Rubio can wield significant influence. If he were to tell GOP leaders that he'll stand in the way of other legislative priorities until he receives assurances that the chamber will vote on new gun measures, it's very likely his colleagues would make time.

Just how hard is Rubio prepared to fight? I'm keeping my expectations low.