The most memorable moment of the Kavanaugh hearing didn’t come from Senators or protesters

Guttenberg and Kavanaugh.
Guttenberg and Kavanaugh.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Roberts
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Brett Kavanaugh finally got a chance to testify at the end of the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s tumultuous hearing about his Supreme Court nomination. But a moment during today’s recess threatens to overshadow his remarks.

Members of the public in the Senate room where the hearing was held included Fred Guttenberg, whose teenage daughter Jaime was killed during the Parkland, Fla. high school mass shooting this February. As the hearing broke for a recess, Guttenberg introduced himself to Kavanaugh, who stared at Guttenberg for a moment, before walking away.

The moment was captured by AP photographer, Andy Harnik, who tweeted a striking black and white photo of the encounter.

Guttenberg claims Kavanaugh “pulled his hand back” after he heard who he was. “I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence,” he said.  A clip from C-Span shows Guttenberg introducing himself, then Kavanaugh staring at him and turning away.

Here’s an alternate view of the encounter:

The incident has already earned Guttenberg a couple of invitations to prime-time news shows tonight, as well as criticism that he set Kavanaugh up deliberately to make him look bad.

Whether Kavanaugh heard what Guttenberg said and chose to shun him, didn’t understand what he said, or was whisked away before he could respond is unclear. But within just over an hour of the photo being made public, it had already been shared by tens of thousands of people, and cited as proof of Kavanaugh’s unsuitability for the bench by his detractors and activists for stronger gun laws.

By early evening it was another exhibit in the US’s partisan battleground, and the White House press official tasked with shepherding Kavanaugh through his confirmation was tweeting a video that he said proved that Kavanaugh was just respecting security who intervened:

It’s a view that was roundly dismissed by his critics, including gun safety group Moms’ Demand founder Shannon Watts, who called it “bullshit.”

As a judge, Kavanaugh wrote opinions against stricter gun laws, earning him an endorsement from the National Rifle Association. He wrote a dissenting opinion on the legality of a Washington, DC automatic-weapons ban that stated that because handgun ownership is protected, semi-automatic rifle ownership should be as well. Critics worry he could “usher in a new era of laissez-faire gun laws.”

Kavanaugh’s supporters have portrayed him as a caring family man, who interprets US law ”as written,” and who wouldn’t be an activist on the bench. However, over 40 Democrats in the Senate have pledged not to vote in his favor, and 11, both Republicans and Democrats, haven’t made up their mind yet.

Kavanaugh is the least popular Supreme Court nominee since Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork in 1987, a July Gallup poll found. If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to be the swing vote on the Supreme Court, capable of tipping decisions in favor of conservative positions on everything from gun laws to reproductive rights.