Saturday 22 September 2018

Florida massacre school pupils to push for gun law changes

Seventeen students and staff were shot dead last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the US state.

People participate in a candlelight vigil in memory of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (AP)
People participate in a candlelight vigil in memory of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (AP)

By Terry Spencer, Curt Anderson and Brendan Farrington

Around 100 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pupils plan to hold a rally in Tallahassee on Wednesday to put pressure on the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun control laws.

Shortly after last week’s shooting in Parkland, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand, and they appeared shaken afterwards. Some Republicans have said they would consider changes to the law.

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The Florida shootings have struck a nerve across the US, particularly among young people (AP)

The attack last Wednesday seemed to overcome the resistance of some in the state’s leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the legislature in 1999.

However, there is still strong resistance by many in the party to any gun control measures.

Students also have vowed to exert pressure on US congress as the aftermath of the killings resonates beyond Florida.

Hundreds of protesters converged in a Los Angeles park on Monday, demanding tougher background checks and other gun safety measures after the shooting. Some signs held up by the California demonstrators read: “Your Children Are Counting On You”.

Senator Bill Galvano, a Republican and the incoming Florida senate president, said the state senate was preparing a package that would include raising the age to purchase any firearm to 21, creating a waiting period for purchasing any type of firearm, banning bump stocks that can allow semi-automatic guns to spray bullets quickly and creating gun violence restraining orders.

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Shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale (AP)

Authorities said the school shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, 19, had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion.

Police were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. Cruz’s lawyers said there were repeated warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent – yet he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.

“We need to make sure everything is working and to learn from the experience,” said Mr Galvano, who was among those who visited the school.

The senate is also considering boosting spending on mental health programmes for schools and giving law enforcement greater power to involuntarily hold someone considered a danger to themselves or others.

The body will also look at a proposal to deputise a teacher or someone else at the school so that they are authorised to have a gun.

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Students at Henry B Plant High School in Florida pay tribute to victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre (AP)

Mr Galvano said senators want to examine ways to protect schools that do not have resource officers — often armed law enforcement officers — on site.

State house leaders and Governor Rick Scott also are considering possible changes to firearms rules. Mr Scott has planned meetings on school safety, and said he would announce proposals on mental health issues later in the week.

However, some Republicans questioned whether additional gun restrictions are the answer. “I really don’t want to see this politicised into a gun debate,” Republican senator Dennis Baxley said.

Referring to gun control advocates, he said: “Sometimes I wish they were right, that this would fix it, but it won’t … We have a terrible problem with obesity, but we’re not banning forks and spoons.”

Democrats believe raising the age limit and creating a waiting period to buy rifles is not enough.

Senator Gary Farmer of Broward County said: “That’s unacceptable. That’s a joke.

“I don’t see that as a restriction. It never should have been that an 18-year-old could buy an assault weapon. No Floridians should be able to buy an assault weapon.”

Press Association

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