Parkland Father Condemns Republican Matt Gaetz's 'Vile' Attempt to Turn Gun Control Hearing Into Immigration Debate

The father of Jaime Guttenberg, a student who was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last February, has condemned Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz over his "vile" behavior after the lawmaker tried to turn a congressional hearing on gun violence into an immigration debate—and then demanded that victims' parents be removed when they objected to his comments.

"To take the first hearing that was happening in over eight years on the issue of gun violence and to try to turn it into something else.... That's just who he is," Fred Guttenberg said of Gaetz in an interview with Newsweek. "I'm actually really happy that the sunlight is being shined on a guy like him and all those who do what he does."

Both Guttenberg and Manuel Oliver, who lost his son Joaquin in the February 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had been seated in the audience of the hearing when Gaetz attempted to turn the a conversation on H.R.8, a bipartisan measure requiring background checks for all gun sales, toward immigration.

"As we hear the stories and circumstances for those here, I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens," the Florida lawmaker said.

H.R.8, Gaetz claimed, "would not have stopped" violence carried out by undocumented immigrants, "but a wall—a barrier on the southern border—may have."

"That's what we're fighting for," the Republican lawmaker said.

Upon hearing Gaetz's remarks, both Guttenberg and Oliver rose to action, protesting the lawmaker's comments.

"It is their lack of performance, it is their lack of attention to this topic that has led to the reality that we now have 40,000 people a year die in this country due to gun violence—and it's not at the hands of an illegal alien," Guttenberg told Newsweek.

"My daughter was killed at the hands of an American male," said the grieving father, who founded a group called Orange Ribbons for Jaime following his daughter's death. "The Pittsburgh shooter...an American. Sandy Hook...an American."

"To try and suggest that a wall on the southern border would have saved my daughter's life just makes him an inept representative," Guttenberg said of Gaetz. "One who, really, because of what he said just deserves to be defeated in his next election because he clearly has no capability to be solving this problem."

After Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler, of New York, called for order in the congressional hearing, fellow Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island questioned whether there is "any committee rule that prevents a member of Congress from reciting false statements in a committee hearing that are unsupported by the evidence."

"Or are members of Congress entitled to just make things up in support of specious arguments?" Cicilline asked.

Gaetz later appeared to seize on the comment, demanding to know whether there is any committee process that calls for the removal of audience members who interrupt Congress members, as he gestured toward Guttenberg and Oliver.

Guttenberg said he believes Gaetz's behavior will be his own undoing. "I'm a big believer in sunshine," he said. "Let people be who they are and keep giving them opportunities to show who they are."

He suggested that if anyone wants to understand who Gaetz is, they need look no further than his appearance in Sacha Baron Cohen's Showtime series Who Is America? in which the actor tried to trick Gaetz into expressing support for a fictitious program that would see kindergartners armed with weapons.

While Gaetz, who later admitted that he had not known he was being duped by Cohen at the time, refused to support the made-up program without more information, Guttenberg noted, "Congressman Gaetz was not able to even out and out say that it's a bad idea to give kindergartners a weapon to go to school with."

"This is a guy that lives in a different universe than me," Guttenberg said.

"He is clearly disinterested in being an honest decent representative fighting for the safety of the people he is supposed to serve," the father said.

"By doing what he did yesterday, he was trying to make a show of a fake argument and he failed," Guttenberg said. "So, in addition being kind of vile in what he was doing, he also failed. That effort failed."

Guttenberg said he feels confident that gun control legislation will continue to pass through government, despite opposition from lawmakers like Gaetz.

"I do believe that what's going to happen is that this House of Representatives will be passing common sense legislation over the next two years, bill by bill, and some of them may pass through Senate too," he said.

"But, I also believe that we need one more election cycle," Guttenberg added. "Just as gun safety was the reason the House flipped, it will be the reason that the Senate flips too."

In the wake of his daughter's death, Guttenberg has become an outspoken advocate for common sense gun control. In an opinion piece for Newsweek published on Wednesday, he expressed disappointment in President Donald Trump's decision to remain "silent" on the issue during his State of the Union address and focus instead on issues like immigration.

"While watching this speech, sadly, I realized that had my daughter's killer been an illegal immigrant, the president would have mentioned it," Guttenberg said. "He failed to mention it because like so many victims of gun violence, she was killed by an American male."

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Fred Guttenberg speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 at Los Angeles Convention Center, on October 21, 2018. Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, a student killed in the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, condemned Republican Representative Matt Gaetz over his “vile” attempt to turn a gun control hearing into an immigration debate. Phillip Faraone/Getty Images
Parkland Father Condemns Republican Matt Gaetz's 'Vile' Attempt to Turn Gun Control Hearing Into Immigration Debate | U.S.