TALLAHASSEE/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Hundreds of people including teenaged survivors of last week’s deadly Florida high school mass shooting poured into the state capital Tallahassee on Wednesday (Feb 21) demanding that lawmakers limit sales of assault rifles.
Some wore T-shirts and carried signs reading “We call BS,” one of the slogans of the movement started by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and educators were slain by a gunman with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle in the second-deadliest shooting at a US public school.
The Feb 14 massacre, the latest in a long series of deadly US school shootings, stirred the nation’s long-running debate about gun rights and public safety, prompting officials from state lawmakers to US President Donald Trump to consider new action.
Investigators said the assault was carried out by 19-year-old former Stoneman student Nikolas Cruz, who purchased an AR-15 nearly a year ago. Police charged Cruz, who had been kicked out of the school due to disciplinary problems, with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle before he was able to buy a beer,” said Laurenzo Prado, a Stoneman junior, referring to a Florida law that allows people as young as 18 to buy assault weapons. “The laws of the country have failed.”
Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee said they would consider raising the age limit to 21, the same standard for handguns and alcohol, though the state Senate on Wednesday opted not to take up a gun control measure.
Trump, a strong supporter of gun rights, was due to meet later on Wednesday with parents, students and teachers who were victims of gun violence, including those affected by the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida.
The White House meeting comes a day after Trump said his administration would take steps to ban bump stocks, an accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute. A spokeswoman said the administration was open to the idea of setting national age limits on sales of assault rifles.
Dozens of students packed into a meeting room on Wednesday, peppering Florida Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, with questions about why civilians should have continued access to assault rifles.
Negron declined to say whether he would support any specific gun control measures, saying, “That’s an issue we’re going to look at as we work to develop legislation.”
The legislative session wraps up on March 9, leaving lawmakers little time to act.
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Under pressure after Parkland, Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to quickly complete a proposed rule that would treat “bump stocks” as machine guns, which could effectively outlaw them in the United States.
Last October, a retired real estate investor and high-stakes gambler used multiple assault rifles equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people at a Las Vegas outdoor concert, the deadliest attack by a single gunman in US history. Bump stocks have not played a prominent role in other recent US mass shootings.
Trump’s support for any tightening of gun laws would mark a change for the Republican who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The NRA opposes an outright ban on bump stocks but has said it would be open to restrictions on the devices.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday urged Trump to back legislation, instead of a regulation, on bump stocks.
“The only way to close this loophole permanently is legislation,” Schumer said.
Calls for national student walk-outs and marches in the coming months have gained steam on social media, including the“March for Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, spearheaded by Stoneman students.
Hundreds of students walked out of high schools in Florida, Maryland and Arizona, in a move to show support for the student activists, according to witnesses and local media. The Maryland march was headed toward the US Capitol.
In Washington, several hundred of young student protesters converged on the US Capitol and then the White House on Wednesday afternoon, carrying signs reading “Hold Hands Not Guns,” “Keep guns out of the wrong hands” and “Abolish the NRA”.
The NRA has agreed to participate in a televised town hall on guns to be broadcast by CNN later on Wednesday, the news network said. NRA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the Florida state capital, dozens of Stoneman students, teachers, and parents wore bright blue T-shirts and carried signs reading “We Call BS” which has become a battle cry since a Stoneman senior shouted the words during a gun control rally after the shooting.
Some expressed exasperation over the lack of action following a long list of school shootings across the country from Columbine, Colorado, to Newtown, Connecticut, to Benton, Kentucky.
“If we had stricter gun control, we would not have lost 17 lives,” Florence Yared, a survivor of the Florida shooting, told reporters after meeting with state lawmakers.
Yared said she held the US Congress responsible for every community affected by gun violence: “You have the power to change this. If you don’t, then we will change you.”