Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) lashed out Wednesday at a parent of one of the victims of last year’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in an attempt to eject him from the U.S. House chambers for speaking out of turn.
Gaetz drew complaints from the audience as he tried to argue that violence caused by undocumented immigrants is worse than the toll of gun violence in the United States. (For reference, there were 40,000 gun deaths last year, about two-thirds of which were suicides, compared with one rough estimate of 400 homicides attributed to illegal immigrants.) Gaetz said that funding a border wall would help curb both problems. He was speaking at a hearing on House Resolution 8, which would require a background check for every firearm sale.
“I hope that we’ll deal with all the drivers of violence,” he said. “The greatest driver of violence — in the circumstances that I indicated — was not the firearm. It’s the fact that we have an immigration system that allows people to come here violently ...”
He was cut off by shouts and grumbles from the audience, but one voice in particular rose above the rest: That of Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. He sat next to Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was also killed in the shooting, as they aired their displeasure at Gaetz’s comments.
“Manny stood up and said, ‘That’s a lie. That’s not true,’ and I yelled out that our children were killed by an American male,” Guttenberg told HuffPost. “Mr. Gaetz didn’t care for the truth and made an inquiry to see if we could be kicked out.”
In a fit of frustration, Gaetz pointed his finger directly at Oliver as he inquired whether House Judiciary Chair Jarrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) could eject him from the hearing.
“I’d observe that that was three interruptions from the same individual,” said Gaetz, who received $2,500 in donations related to the National Rifle Association in the 2018 election cycle, according to Open Secrets.
Guttenberg told HuffPost that Gaetz knew exactly who he was talking to ― that several in the audience were currently grappling with the upcoming anniversary of the loss of their children to gun violence in Parkland.
“I found what he did, to treat what happened to our families that way, it’s disgusting, despicable and vile,” Guttenberg said. “But I’m actually thrilled Mr. Gaetz acted like Mr. Gaetz. I think it was wonderful for the American people to see who he is as a person.”
He added: “This is the kind of behavior that got us to where we are — where 40k per year are dying from guns.”
Gaetz ― who was condemned last year for inviting a Holocaust denier and white nationalist to the State of the Union address ― doubled down on Twitter, saying that anyone worried about gun violence should “join us to #BuildTheWall.”
On Thursday morning, Oliver made the rounds on cable news, admonishing Gaetz for implying that President Trump’s border wall would solve the country’s mass shooting problem.
He told MSNBC: “I called him a salesperson because he’s selling a project, that has no relationship to what the discussion was at that point. This person came in here trying to solve the problem with the argument that we need a wall. We’re discussing gun violence in this room, and how we’re going to end this epidemic.”
Meanwhile, Gaetz spent Wednesday and Thursday morning on Twitter, defending himself by making fun of his critics and pointing fingers at other congressmen. He called HR8 supporter Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Cali.) a “radical leftist who would confiscate every gun in America if he could.”
This has been updated with further comments from Oliver and Gaetz.