Thousands of gun control advocates, including students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where 17 people were gunned down a week ago, rallied outside the Florida Capitol Wednesday afternoon calling for tougher gun laws.
“Either do your jobs or get the hell out of our way,” said one speaker who was a survivor of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting two years ago.
“It’s just very unfair for politicians to take money from the NRA, to lie to us and tell them they love us as children and they care about us and they lie through their teeth,” said Timothy Laurent of Broward County whose friend was killed in the Parkland shooting. “They tell us they want to see change too. That they want us to be safe. They care about our safety. They don’t care about us.”
Inside the Capitol, about a hundred students from Stoneman Douglas spent the day meeting with legislators. Lewis Mizen, a 17-year-old senior attended a morning meeting with Senate leaders.
“I just want to clarify, we aren’t a radical, left-wing agenda being pushed by gun-hating liberals to take away everyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Mizen told Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “We want a bipartisan agreement, and we want to be able to go to school and know we will come home at the end of the day. I don’t want this to get political. The minute it does, everything we’ve come here to do will get lost.”
“You’re right,” Negron responded. “This issue should never be partisan.”
“I just want you to understand we are moving as quickly as the system allows with the urgency that is deserving of the emotion and the concern you have,” Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island told the students.
Some of those who made the journey from Parkland to Tallahassee,expressed frustration with some lawmakers who missed their appointments with the students.
“I’m frustrated, but it will not falter me,” said Alfonso Calderon. “I want to talk to as many people who who could actually change law in the state of Florida.
One lawmaker who was listening to the students was Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
“We owe it to you to take meaningful action,” said Galvano, who is designated to take over as Senate president at the end of the year. “To hear what you have to say and not just let it fall but to let it become a change in the way we do business in Florida.”
Galvano and other lawmakers are working on a package of reforms designed to make schools safer. Among the proposals is raising the minimum age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 and adopting a waiting period when purchasing such weapons. The plan would also include more money to increase the number of school resource officers, as well as mental health counselors.
Another measure pushed by the students is a bill that would impose a ban on the sale of assault weapons in Florida. Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, the alleged gunman in last week’s school shooting, used an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon in the massacre. But the proposed ban suffered a setback in the House Tuesday afternoon when members rejected an effort the legislation up for a floor vote.
“What I tell my kids about being in elected office, you have to be very careful of what authority you give the government,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded when a student asked him about an assault gun ban. “I don’t think that [a ban] is the solution.”
The students had about 70 meetings scheduled with lawmakers and members of the Florida Cabinet during their stay in Tallahassee.
One of the groups met with Attorney General Pam Bondi in a private meeting to discuss mental health issues.
“The attorney general was incredibly helpful,” said Jaclyn Corin, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, whose idea it was for students to make the trip to the Capitol. “We focused on mental health with her. We have really good ideas to help protect the kids in the state of Florida. We’re going to utilize the popularity of social media to do that.”
“I think they’re making a tremendous difference,” said state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation Florida, who represents part of Broward County where Parkland is located and has helped the students organize the #neveragain movement. “It’s working. It’s working. You’ve got to trust me.”