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Marco Rubio: Gun control would have 'done nothing' to prevent Oregon shooting

Stricter gun laws being proposed in the wake of last week's deadly shooting at an Oregon community college would not have prevented the rampage, Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio insisted Tuesday.

"For example, these were not assault rifles, these were handguns that he had purchased," the Florida senator told TODAY's Matt Lauer about the weapons used by the Oregon gunman. "The laws that many are proposing would have done nothing to prevent these attacks."

Rubio said instead of proposing tighter restrictions on gun ownership, the country should examine mental illness, "which we need to begin to address more seriously, as opposed to stigmatizing it or, in some cases, trying to put it aside, and that's a societal thing that we need to confront."

He also said we need to examine why the nation has become so violent in general.

"What is it that's leading people in this country who are not mentally ill to do that sort of drive-by shootings and things we've seen," he said.

After a month full of solid campaign performances and a strong showing at Republican presidential debates, Rubio has climbed in popularity among potential voters. Though still trailing front-runner Donald Trump and second-place Ben Carson, Rubio was tied for third with Carly Fiorina, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Asked if he would consider a party ticket as a vice presidential candidate, Rubio clarified his campaign's goal, saying "I want to be the top of the ticket, that’s why we're running for president. I feel good about our campaign."

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He also defended his recent voting record in the Senate, where he's missed 29 percent of the votes.

“The majority of the work of a senator is the constituent service, the committee work, and that continues forward unabated,” he said, adding that he has cancelled numerous campaign events in order to return to Congress to cast votes on critical legislation.

"My ambitions are not for me, my ambitions are for my country and for Florida," he said.

Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.

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