Wednesday 26 September 2018

Florida school shooting survivors urge politicians to act on gun control

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have urged Florida politicians to take action on gun control one week on from a deadly shooting.

Aria Siccone, 14, a survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries as she recounts her story from that day, while state Rep. Barrinton Russell comforts her (AP)
Aria Siccone, 14, a survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries as she recounts her story from that day, while state Rep. Barrinton Russell comforts her (AP)

By Brendan Farrington, Josh Replogle and Tamara Lush

Survivors of the Florida school shooting have descended on the state legislature to deliver one overarching message on gun control: It is time for action.

The youngsters split into several groups to talk with representatives and state leaders about controlling firearms, the legislative process and mental health issues one week after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland area.

Some tearfully asked why civilians should be allowed to have weapons such as the AR-15, which was used in the attack.

When Florida’s senate president Joe Negron heard the question, he did not directly answer, saying: “That’s an issue that we’re reviewing.”

When another representative 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 in Tallahassee by showing pictures of all 17 victims in the attack.

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Students lobby state politicians in Tallahassee (AP)

“There are some really harrowing tales here,” said Democratic senator Lauren Book of Broward County, who helped organise busloads of students who arrived at the Capitol building late on Tuesday night.

She stayed overnight with the students in Tallahassee’s Civic Centre and said they stayed up until 5am, 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 pupils from the high school made the 400-mile trip on three buses. They told the 500 students and parents waiting for them that they were fighting to protect all students.

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House speaker Richard Corcoran speaks to student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (AP)

Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior, said: “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 any more.”

Despite their enthusiasm and determination, the students and their supporters are not likely to get what they really want: a ban on AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles. Republican representatives are talking more seriously about some restrictions, but not a total ban.

Instead, they are discussing treating assault-style rifles like the one suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz is accused of using more like handguns than long guns.

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Lobbyists and attorneys listen as student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School interrupt a house legislative committee hearing (AP)

That could mean raising the minimum age to purchase the weapon to 21, creating a waiting period and making it more difficult for people who exhibit signs of mental illness from buying the weapon even without a diagnosis.

Democrats attempted to get a bill to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines heard on the House floor on Tuesday. Republicans, who dominate the chamber, dismissed it. Students who were at the Capitol ahead of their classmates found that Republicans steered the conversation away from gun restrictions.

Rachel Catania, 15, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, said: “We’re not going to be the school that got shot, we’re going to be the school that got shot and made something happen. A change is going to happen.”

Press Association

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