Monday 24 September 2018

Survivors of Florida school shooting fight to ‘stop further gun deaths’

The students took a seven-hour bus ride to lobby politicians.

Tyra Hemans, 19, left, and Logan Locke, 17, right, students who survived the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, wait to board buses in Parkland (Gerald Herbert/AP)
Tyra Hemans, 19, left, and Logan Locke, 17, right, students who survived the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, wait to board buses in Parkland (Gerald Herbert/AP)

By Brendan Farrington, Josh Reploglel and Tamara Lush, Associated Press

Students who survived the Florida school shooting began a journey to the state Capitol to urge politicians to prevent another massacre.

But within hours the gun-friendly Legislature had effectively halted any possibility of banning assault rifles like the one used in the attack.

The legislative action further energised the teens as they prepared to confront legislators who have quashed gun-control efforts for decades in a state where 1.3 million people have concealed carry permits.

“They’re voting to have shootings continually happen. These people who voted down the bill haven’t experienced what we did. I want to say to them, ‘It could be you,'” 16-year-old Noah Kaufman said as he made the 400-mile trip to Tallahassee.

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Madyson Kravitz, 16, right, and Melanie Weber, 16, were among those who travelled to Tallahassee (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Three buses carried 100 students who, in the aftermath of the attack that killed 17 people, want to revive the gun-control movement. The teens carried sleeping bags and pillows and hugged their parents as they departed, many wearing burgundy T-shirts in their school colours.

They spent the seven-hour ride checking their phones, watching videos and reading comments on social media about the shooting, some of which accused them of being liberal pawns.

Meanwhile at the Statehouse, a Democratic representative asked for a procedural move that would have allowed the Republican-controlled House to consider a ban on large-capacity magazines and assault rifles such as the AR-15 that was wielded by the suspect, Nickolas Cruz.

The bill had been assigned to three committees but was not scheduled for a hearing. The House quickly snuffed out the Democratic motion. The vote broke down along party lines, and Republicans criticised Democrats for forcing the vote.

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Sheryl Acquarola, a 16 year-old junior from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is overcome with emotion in the east gallery of the House of Representatives after the representatives voted not to hear the bill banning assault rifles and large capacity magazines (Mark Wallheiser/AP)

Because the committees will not meet again before the legislative session ends on March 9, the move essentially extinguishes hope that politicians would vote on any sweeping measures to restrict assault rifles, although other proposals could still be considered.

“No-one in the world with the slightest little hint of a soul isn’t moved by this tragedy,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson said. “The discussion has to be a longer, bigger and broader discussion.”

Lizzie Eaton, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spent the day lobbying senators of both parties and concluded that politicians were “just not listening to us”.

The vote was “heartbreaking,” she said. “But we’re not going to stop.”

They're voting to have shootings continually happen. These people who voted down the bill haven't experienced what we did Noah Kaufman

The attack on February 14 initially appeared to overcome the resistance of some in the state’s political leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999.

However, many members of the party still have strong resistance to any gun-control measures.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they will consider raising age restrictions for gun purchases and temporarily revoking someone’s guns if that person is deemed a threat to others.

Governor Rick Scott, also a Republican, convened groups assigned to propose measures for protecting schools from gun violence.

Politicians will probably say that getting a new bill passed is nearly impossible with only two and a half weeks left in the legislative session.

Some who are thinking of running on a statewide ticket are mindful of their sensitive positions, since gun owners make up huge voting blocs in some parts of the state, especially in the north west of the state which is known as the Panhandle.

Press Association

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