Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican representative from Florida, is sadly no stranger to horrific mass shootings in his state. In 2016, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando killed 49 people. Constituents were outraged then, and they are yet again outraged after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. As a Senator, it's entirely within his power to bring common sense gun legislation to the floor of Congress for a vote.
And yet, he refuses.
As a result, he's now the subject of a public callout, three billboards-style. Inspired by the already-iconic premise of Oscar-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, red mobile billboards with black, all-caps text have appeared close to Rubio's Senate offices in Doral, FL. "Slaughtered in school/And still no gun control?/How come, Marco Rubio?" screams the billboards, in attempt to urge him to consider the safety of his most vulnerable constituents.
The billboards follow a tradition of bringing Hollywood's most visible fictional protest symbols to life to make a point. Because these symbols are already imbued with such a well-known meaning, their presence in our world makes them feel even more salient. Last year, reproductive rights activists dressed up in Handmaid's costumes showed up the Ohio Statehouse to protest a ban on an abortion procedure; their blood-red gowns served as a harsh reminder that women die when abortions are banned.
Rubio, who has an A+ rating from the NRA and receives plenty of money from the gun lobby, is the target of such protest for his failure to address gun violence in any meaningful sense. After the Parkland shooting, he essentially threw up his hands on the Senate floor, contending that gun legislation would not have prevented the shooting. "If we do something, it should be something that works. And the struggle up to this point has been that most of the proposals that have been offered would not have prevented, not just yesterday's tragedy, but any of those in recent history," he said, conveniently forgetting that the purpose of assault rifles, which were used in the shootings he describes, are solely intended to kill as many people as possible.
Rubio further states that "if someone’s decided, ‘I’m going to commit this crime,’ they’ll find a way to get the gun to do it" via the black market.
This argument is ridiculous. There are people who are determined to shoplift, but we still have cameras and RFID sensors in stores to act as a deterrent. Databases are used to prevent students from plagiarizing published works. Sometimes people want to do bad things. We can't control their behavior, but we can make it harder for them to do bad things.
Vox makes the point that laws don't need to be perfect in order for them to be effective. Something is infinitely better than nothing. Most Americans favor some form of common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on assault-style weapons, like those used in the shootings at Parkland and Orlando. Rubio's own constituents, like Parkland student journal Daniel Hogg, are pleading with the Senator to do anything, literally anything, to save lives.
In the film, Frances McDermond's character uses the three billboards to publicly shame the police for not solving the murder of her daughter. The presence of the billboards causes tension among the citizens of Ebbing, but ultimately urges on action beyond feckless talk. It remains to be seen in Rubio is spurred to address the plight of gun control protesters, but those billboards outside of his office pack a serious visual punch that is difficult to ignore. Perhaps Rubio won't be able to ignore them, either.