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The problem(s) with Marco Rubio’s odd case against new gun laws

While making the case against new gun laws, Marco Rubio also seemed to make the case against passing new laws on any subject.


In Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Val Demings shared a stage for a fiery debate last night — it’s expected to be their only one-on-one event — in which the challenger pushed the incumbent on a variety of fronts, including gun violence.

The GOP senator responded with his go-to response to all questions about gun laws: “We just passed a bill they wanted and there was a shooting a week later, and a week after that. These bills don’t work. The only people that follow these laws are law-abiding citizens.” 

The senator didn’t specify the “bill they wanted,” but in context, he was probably referring to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was the first new legislation on gun policy to pass Congress in roughly three decades. Rubio, who has a knack for opposing bipartisan compromises, voted against it, despite knowing it’d pass easily without him.

To hear him tell it, the measure, which President Joe Biden signed into law in June, did not magically stop gun violence, which is why it should apparently be seen as a failure.

Whether the Republican incumbent realizes this or not, what’s amazing about his argument is that he didn’t just make the case against gun laws, he effectively made the case against all laws.

Consider Rubio’s exact pitch, but let’s change the underlying crime. Officials just passed a bill they wanted against car thefts, but someone’s car got stolen a week later. A week after that, someone else’s car was also stolen. Therefore, laws against car thefts don’t work — because the only people that follow these laws are law-abiding citizens.

Here’s another: Officials just passed a bill they wanted against arson, but someone set a fire a week later. A week after that, someone else set a fire. Therefore, laws against arson don’t work — because the only people that follow these laws are law-abiding citizens.

I could keep going, providing an endless list of related examples, and therein lies the point. Policymakers identify problems, explore possible solutions, and approve policies intended to make a difference. Do they eliminate all crimes? No. But when implemented effectively, they often make the problem better.

To hear Rubio tell it, there’s no real point to even trying to prevent gun violence, because such laws don’t work. Part of the problem with this is that there’s ample evidence that these policies can work. But another part of the problem is more fundamental: If Rubio doesn’t see the point of passing laws, why is he seeking another six-year term as a lawmaker?

Making matters slightly worse, the GOP incumbent actually appears to be regressing on the issue. In 2018, in the wake of a school mass shooting, Rubio said he’d support a law banning 18-year-olds from buying assault-style rifles. In last night’s debate, the Republican appeared to walk away from his own stated position.

“How long will you watch people being gunned down in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college church synagogue, a grocery store, a movie theater, a mall, and a night club, and do nothing?” Demings asked during the debate.

The answer, evidently, is quite a bit longer.