Thursday 19 September 2019

Survivors of Florida school shooting travel to state capital to press for gun law change

The students plan to hold a rally on Wednesday, a week after 17 people died in a shooting at the school.

School Shooting Protest
School Shooting Protest

By Terry Spencer, Curt Anderson and Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

Some 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will travel 400 miles to Florida’s capital on Tuesday to urge politicians to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and teachers last week.

The students plan to hold a rally on Wednesday in the hope that it will put pressure on the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws, something some GOP politicians said on Monday they would consider.

Shortly after the shooting, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand.

“I really think they are going to hear us out,” said Chris Grady, a 19-year-old student who is going on the trip. He said he hoped the trip would lead to some “commonsense laws like rigorous background checks”.

People participate in a candlelight vigil in memory of the 17 students and faculty who were killed (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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, leaving the fate of new restrictions unclear.

Students have also vowed to exert pressure on Congress as the aftermath of the rampage resonates beyond Florida and from coast to coast.

Hundreds of chanting protesters converged on Monday on a downtown Los Angeles park, 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.”

School Shooting Florida

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.

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

Police also 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 is alleged to have legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.

Nikolas Cruz (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

“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.

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

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

But some Republicans questioned whether additional gun restrictions were 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.”

School Shooting Protest

Cruz made his first appearance in court on Monday. Wearing a prison jumpsuit, he kept his head down and did not appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defence team.

Since the attack, students from the school have become increasingly vocal in their demands for gun-control measures.

Many have pointed out politicians who take financial support from the National Rifle Association, and some have lashed out at US president Donald Trump, saying he was busy blaming Democrats for failing to pass gun restrictions while taking no action of his own.

After staying largely mum in the last few days about the massacre and the escalating debate about weapons, Mr Trump said on Monday that he was supportive of a bipartisan effort to strengthen federal background checks for gun purchases.

Students are also calling for anti-gun violence demonstrations in Washington and other cities on March 24.

Organisers behind the anti-Trump Women’s March called for a 17-minute nationwide walkout by teachers and students on March 14, and a gun-control group was calling for a rally to ban assault weapons on Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.

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