Florida shooting survivors march on state Capitol as others walk out of schools

Florida shooting survivors march on state Capitol as others walk out of schools

Survivors of the Florida school shooting have descended on the state's Capitol with one overarching message: It's time for action.


Key points:

  • 500 students and parents travelled by bus to the state capital
  • Others walked out of their schools in solidarity
  • Politicians are talking about some restrictions but not a total ban

The students split into several groups to talk with politicians and other state leaders about gun control, the legislative process, and mental health issues, while others held a rally on the steps of the building in Tallahassee.

Some tearfully asked why civilians should be allowed to have weapons such as the AR-15 assault rifle, which was used in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School exactly one week ago.

When Florida's Senate President Joe Negron heard the question, he didn't directly answer: "That's an issue that we're reviewing."

When another politician said he supported raising the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 from 18, the students broke into applause.

In a move to show support for the student activists, hundreds of students walked out of high schools in Florida, as well as Maryland and Arizona, to stage demonstrations.

The Florida Senate opened its session by showing pictures of all 17 victims who died in the attack.

"There are some really harrowing tales here," said Democratic Senator Lauren Book of Broward County, who helped organise the trip for busloads of students.

She stayed overnight with the students in Tallahassee's Civic Centre and said they stayed up until 5:00am, researching, writing and preparing to talk with politicians.

"It has been a very, very difficult, tough night," Senator Book said.

"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 students from the high school made the 640-kilometre trip on three buses.

They told the 500 students and parents waiting for them that they were fighting to protect all students.

"We're what's making the change. We're going to talk to these politicians," said Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior.

"We're going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can't happen anymore."

A total ban probably isn't going to happen

Despite their enthusiasm and determination, the students and their supporters aren't likely to get what they really want: a ban on AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles.

Republican politicians are talking more seriously about some restrictions, but not a total ban.

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

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 Republicans steered the conversation away from gun restrictions.

"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," said Rachel Catania, 15, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas.

"A change is going to happen."

As the grieving Florida students demanded action, President Donald Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year's Las Vegas massacre.

It was a small sign of movement on the gun violence issue that has long tied Washington in knots.

"We must do more to protect our children," said Mr Trump, a vocal supporter of gun rights.

Florida has relaxed gun laws, made it easier to buy weapons

State politicians in Florida have rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor's office and the legislature in 1999.

And Florida has a reputation for expanding gun rights. In 2011, Republican Rick Scott signed a law that banned cities and counties from regulating gun and ammunition sales.

Mr Scott organised three committees to look at school safety, mental health and gun safety issues that met on Tuesday and vowed to make changes.

While he told reporters several times that "everything is on the table", he did not answer whether his proposal would include any bans on any type of weapons.

Instead, Mr Scott said he was interested in making it harder for people who had mental health issues to get hold of guns.

He also pledged to increase spending on school safety programs and on mental health treatment.

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

Police were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood.

His lawyers said there were many warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent.

Yet he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.

Stoneman Douglas senior Diego Pfeiffer was realistic about what change would happen before the Legislature goes home on March 9, but said anything would be a good first step.

"The best-case scenario is we move a step forward and that's all we're asking here. We're asking to help save student lives," he said.

"Whether it's funding or mental health or gun safety or any of that sort of stuff — I am pro any of that."

AP