TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Survivors of the Florida school shooting descended on the state’s Capitol on Wednesday with one overarching message: It’s time for action.
The students entered a gun-friendly political climate in Tallahassee, where lawmakers have rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999.
The students received attention and a warm reception, but politicians did not offer specific answers. The students’ biggest wish — banning assault-type weapons such as the AR-15, the weapon used by suspect Nikolas Cruz — was taken off the table the previous day in the House.
“How is it possible that this boy that we all knew was clearly disturbed was able to get an assault rifle, military grade, and come to our school and try to kill us,” one 16-year-old student asked the Senate president.
The teens split into several groups to talk with lawmakers and other state leaders about gun control, the legislative process, and mental health issues. Some tearfully asked why civilians should be allowed to have weapons such as the one fired in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one week ago.
When Florida’s Senate President Joe Negron heard the question, he did not answer directly: “That’s an issue that we’re reviewing.” When another lawmaker said he supported raising the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 from 18, the students broke into applause.
The Florida Senate opened its session by showing pictures of all 17 victims in the attack.
“There are some really harrowing tales here,” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Book of Broward County, who helped organize busloads of students who arrived at the Capitol late Tuesday. She stayed overnight with the students in Tallahassee’s Civic Center and said they stayed up until 5 a.m., researching, writing and preparing to talk with politicians.
“It has been a very, very difficult, tough night. It’s in those quiet moments that the reality of this stuff, without all the noise sets in. In any given moment, there’s tears. It’s raw and it’s there.”
About 100 students from the high school made the 400-mile (640-kilometer) trip on three buses. They told the 500 students and parents waiting for them that they were fighting to protect all students.
“We’re what’s making the change. We’re going to talk to these politicians. ... We’re going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can’t happen anymore,” said Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior.
By The Associated Press
Many students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School have turned into outspoken gun control advocates. Some of them say their stance on gun rights has changed. Others believed if they stayed silent, nothing would change.
About 100 of them traveled to the state capital to talk to Florida lawmakers on Wednesday about tougher gun restrictions. During their 400-mile trip to Tallahassee, they spoke with The Associated Press. Here are some of their stories:
TRUMP SUPPORTER RECONSIDERS HIS STANCE
Kyle Kashuv, a 16-year-old junior, said he supported President Donald Trump in the last election and considers himself a Republican. But he said the shooting made him reconsider his position on guns, saying there needs to be stronger background checks to make sure mentally unstable people like Nikolas Cruz can’t purchase weapons.
“Previously I believed that everyone under the Constitution should be allowed to have guns, but I now realize that not everyone should have guns and we should have way stricter background checks and mental evaluations. ... We need to a middle ground and have some reform,” he said.
Unlike many other students, however, he still disagrees with a ban on AR-15s or any other weapon.
“What is the difference between an AR-15 and any other semi-automatic rifle? Just because it is the most popular doesn’t mean it is the most lethal,” he said. “Every single weapon is terrible when it is in the hands of someone who is mentally unstable. Guns have great usages for self-defense, so we don’t have to totally rely on the government.”
“IF LAWMAKERS WANT TO STAY ... THEY SHOULD HEAR US OUT”
Sarah Chadwick can’t vote because she is only 16 years old. But she traveled to Florida’s Capitol because she wants to change the minds of Republicans who support the NRA.
“Maybe if they see the victims themselves, something will spark a change in their mind,” she said.
She wants stricter gun laws, including better background and mental health checks.
“I feel like we are the voice of the upcoming generation,” she said. “If lawmakers want to stay where they are, they should hear us out and make a change.”
Bailey Feuerman said she rode the bus to Tallahassee because she never wants to see another tragedy like the one that happened at her high school.
“I hope to accomplish getting the lawmakers to understand what we’re going through, so that they can put in place stricter gun laws ... so that we don’t ever have to go through this again.”
“THEY SCREWED WITH THE WRONG COMMUNITY”
Jordan Faber wants to make the lawmakers really think about what happened, and get them to understand that if nothing changes, there will be another mass school shooting.
“There is no way this can happen again. They screwed with the wrong community. This is a smart, intelligent, beautiful community,” he said.
BE LOUD, BE PROUD
Rebecca Schneid said if the students would have stayed in Parkland, no one would ever hear them.
“We have to go to them and show them how loud our voices can get. Because if we don’t, how are they ever going to listen to us?” she said.