U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney hosted a town hall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in Fort Myers. Many of his constituents focused their questions on school security and gun control. Amanda Inscore/


Every time U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney answered a question about school security six alumni from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stood up Thursday night. 

They sat toward the front of the Caloosahatchee room at the school district's administration building for the town hall and in their hands, they held photos of victims killed at the school on Valentine's Day in Parkland. 

The alumni, along with the majority of the audience, booed and jeered when they didn't like Rooney's response to gun violence in America. 

As the evening unfolded, so did emotions. 

When Rooney said he didn't support a ban on assault weapons, the audience responded.

"Children are (expletive) dying at my school," yelled Michael Weissman. "You are heartless." 

Weissman, 19, graduated from Stoneman Douglas last year. He held a photo of 14-year-old Alexander Schachter, who died in the shooting. After the rally, Weissman said he felt "somewhat silenced."

"They don't represent us," Weissman said. "They don't care about us. They don't represent us. They represent a few men in suits and ties more than hundreds of crying citizens."

The Republican congressman from Naples said he was in favor of improving mental health services and closing the so-called "gun show loophole" which allows buyers to purchase weapons at gun shows from private sellers without a background check. 

More: Lee County high school students walk out to support Parkland shooting victims

He also said citizens should sacrifice privacy if the public wants to avoid mass shootings in the future. He compared it to the passage of the Patriot Act following the  Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. 

But, Rooney's focus and priority, he said, is on shoring up school safety.

"We have to harden up the schools — the targets," Rooney said. "Too many schools have been hit."

Red slips of paper to show displeasure flew into the air at this answer. This was Rooney's second town hall of the day. His first stop was on Marco Island. His town halls in Southwest Florida come a day after students participated in walkouts to protest gun violence and a Lee County student was arrested for threatening a school shooting at Cypress Lake High School. 

More: Cypress Lake High School student arrested after social media post threatens shooting

The congressman from Florida's District 19 stopped short of saying that he wanted to arm teachers with guns, which is President Donald Trump's suggestion to curb mass shootings at schools.

"Regardless whether we arm the teachers, we have to arm the access points," Rooney said. 

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Rooney said he would like to file a bill which would give retired law enforcement the opportunity for a second career as armed guards on school campuses. 

He also said people who are unstable should be denied access to guns. While he said he was against a ban, Rooney said he believed there should be age restrictions and anyone under the age of 21 should not be sold an AR-15. The alleged shooter in Parkland, Nikolas Cruz, is 19.

"We have to figure out how to get people who are demonstrating an instability and being a danger to their fellow man denied access to guns," Rooney said. "I think the Second Amendment permits normal, sane people to have assault rifles but just like we have non-protected free speech under the First Amendment and we have protected free speech, we have unprotected Second Amendment rights."

An aide to Rooney threatened to cut short the town hall if the audience did not treat the congressman with respect. 

"Can you promise these kids that they will be safe," Ezra Galen yelled. "Promise these kids they will be safe."

Galen grew up in Plantation, a short drive from Parkland. He said he was disappointed by the congressman's response. 

"He just completely dismissed the concerns," Galen said. "He needs to stand up and act on what the people want. This can't happen again."

Not everyone shared Galen's beliefs. 

Seventy-year-old Fort Myers resident Conan Leary was dismayed with the behavior of those who opposed his and Rooney's views. 

"They are a terrible display of arrogance and ignorance," Leary said. "They should say hey before we make gun control and gun laws let's find out why the laws we  have already did not work."

Leary said he is for arming personnel at schools.

Edwin Martinez, 33, graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 2002. He clutched a picture of Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old student killed last week. Martinez remained silent throughout the town hall. 

"To be honest, it's not a single issue," Martinez said. "It's a multitude of issues. It's not ban all guns, it's restricting access to those types of weapons that cause a lot of harm."

Martinez said a civilian shouldn't have access to an assault weapon. 

"He could have been more clear about the access or the NRA," Martinez said. "But he wasn’t going to do that."

Martinez said the purpose of him and his group's presence at the town hall was to remind people of the lives lost at Stoneman Douglas. 

"We just wanted to be here for the victims at the school just so their voices are heard," Martinez said. "This time around it feels different. Those bullets that were shot kind of hit us all and I hope this is the beginning of the change, to be honest."

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