Students' push for tougher gun laws quickly meeting political reality

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The students who swarmed Florida’s state capitol in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre want the Legislature to enact stricter limits on guns. What that might entail remains debatable – if any changes are forthcoming at all.

The 100 Stoneman Douglas survivors who traveled 400 miles to Tallahassee were welcomed into the gun-friendly halls of power Wednesday, but the students’ top goal – a ban on assault-style rifles such as the weapon used in the massacre – was taken off the table a day earlier, although more limited measures are still possible.

Republican legislative leaders say they will consider legislation that will likely call for raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and increasing funding for mental health programs and school-resource officers, the police assigned to specific schools.

Lawmakers are also considering a program promoted by one Florida sheriff that calls for deputizing someone to carry a weapon on campus. Legislators may also enact a waiting period for rifle purchases.

The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the Feb. 14 attack. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons.

“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 president of the state Senate, Joe Negron.

Negron did not answer directly. “That’s an issue that we’re reviewing,” he said.

Outside the capitol building Wednesday, many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said they would oppose in future elections any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.

“We’ve spoke to only a few legislators and … the most we’ve gotten out of them is, ‘We’ll keep you in our thoughts. You are so strong. You are so powerful,'” said Delaney Tarr, a senior at the high school. “We know what we want. We want gun reform. We want commonsense gun laws. … We want change.”

She added: “We’ve had enough of thoughts and prayers. If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago. So this is to every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the NRA. We are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you, demanding that you take action.”

The crowd burst into chants of “Vote them out!” as speakers called for the removal of Republican lawmakers who refuse to address gun control issues. One sign read, “Remember the men who value the NRA over children’s lives” and then listed Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation. Other signs said, “Kill the NRA, not our kids” and “These kids are braver than the GOP.”

About 30 people left an anti-gun rally outside Florida’s Old Capitol and began a sit-in protest at the office of four House Republican leaders, demanding a conversation about gun legislation.

“They’re not speaking to us right now. We only asked for five minutes and so we’re just sitting until they speak,” said Tyrah Williams, a 15-year-old sophomore at Leon High School, which is within walking distance of the Capitol.

During what the White House dubbed a listening session Wednesday, students and parents delivered emotional appeals to President Trump to act on school safety and guns.

The president promised to be “very strong on background checks,” adding that “we’re going to do plenty of other things.” He suggested he supported allowing some teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons to be ready for intruders.

A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, including age restrictions for buying assault-type weapons. Still, gun owners are a key part of his base of supporters.

The NRA quickly rejected any talk of raising the age for buying long guns to 21.

“Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection,” the group said in a statement.

And CBS Miami reported on opposition to another idea floated by the president during the session:

And at a news conference Wednesday, Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel ordered all deputies who qualify to begin carrying rifles on school grounds. The rifles will be locked in patrol cars when not in use until the agency secures gun lockers and lockers, he said.

“We need to be able to defeat any threat that comes into campus,” Israel said.

The sheriff said the school superintendent fully supported his decision.

Stoneman Douglas’ school resource officer was carrying a handgun when the shooting happened last week, but did not discharge his firearm. It’s unclear what role he played in the shooting. The sheriff said those details are still being investigated.

Also Wednesday outside Stoneman Douglas, as the clock neared the time marking an exact week since Cruz opened fire, about 2,000 teens, teachers and supporters joined hands, reached to the sky and chanted, “Never again. Never Again.”

The rally was aimed at showing students they will have the community’s support when they return to class next week for the first time since the attack. Many at the rally carried signs demanding stronger gun laws and wore the school’s burgundy and silver colors.

Kailey Brown, a 15-year-old freshman who was in the building where the shooting happened, said the rally showed “that we are a community, we are together.” She said she would not be scared when school reopens next week.

“I am going to come back strong with my friends and show that we love each other so much and we are going to get through this,” she said.

Larry Dorce, a 17-year-old junior at nearby J.P. Taravella High, carried a picket sign reading, “Would the gun be worth it if it were your own child?”

“They may be our rivals, our so-called rivals, but they are our sister school and we felt their pain,” he said. “The day after the shooting, you could feel the fear in the air (at Taravella) and I never want anyone to feel that again.”

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