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Floridians Call For Change After Latest School Shooting

Feb 18, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

At a vigil for the 17 people killed at a local high school last week in Parkland, Fla., a native and Major League Baseball player Anthony Rizzo summed up what many in the area are feeling.

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ANTHONY RIZZO: While I don't have all the answers, I know that something has to change before this is visited on another community and another community and another community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump, however, tweeted last night that the FBI missed a chance to stop the shooter because they were, quote, "too busy trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign." Still, since the shooting on Wednesday, there's been a drumbeat of calls to action for gun control. And as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, they're coming from both sides of the aisle.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: In the days since a gunman opened fire at his former high school, several Republicans who've been endorsed by the NRA have called for something more than the standard thoughts and prayers.

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RICK SCOTT: How do we make sure this - individuals with mental illness do not touch a gun?

MCCAMMON: That's Florida Governor Rick Scott, promising to lead what he calls a real conversation about gun violence. And here's U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling for more efforts to keep guns away from dangerous people.

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JEFF SESSIONS: This situation that we're seeing just cannot continue. We will take such action as we're able to take.

MCCAMMON: In a speech on the Senate floor, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who also has strong backing from the NRA, expressed skepticism that any one law could solve the problem. But then he went on.

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MARCO RUBIO: I think it's also wrong to say that there's nothing we can do. And I would admit that perhaps even I in the past and the way I've addressed this issue or spoken about it may have come off as dismissive with the argument that since none of these laws would've worked, there's just nothing we can do.

MCCAMMON: And on Friday, after authorities in Vermont said they'd foiled a planned school shooting in that state, Republican Governor Phil Scott announced he was shifting his position on gun control. He says everything should be on the table.

Here in Parkland, residents are expressing anger and frustration that the shooter was able to legally purchase an assault-style weapon and walk into a school.

ALAN PATTON: I wish those were banned totally. There's no reason to have that. No reason.

MCCAMMON: Alan Patton is a retired school teacher who divides his time between New York and Florida. He was eating lunch at a Parkland shopping center on Friday while funerals for the victims were taking place nearby.

PATTON: I'm a Republican who likes Donald Trump. I don't like a lot of things he stands for, and that's one of the things.

MCCAMMON: President Trump has opposed restrictions on gun rights. A year ago, he rolled back Obama-era regulations designed to make it more difficult for people with certain mental illnesses to buy guns.

A few steps away, Jessica Feigen was buckling her children into their car seats. She said she supports gun ownership, but there's no reason for the most deadly weapons to be easily available.

JESSICA FEIGEN: It's sad that it's gotten to this point. People are treating it like Republican versus Democrat - black and white. It's not. There is a middle ground that can be met.

MCCAMMON: Polls suggest most Americans would support more restrictions on guns.

DAVID JOLLY: Republicans are not doing that.

MCCAMMON: David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida, says outside groups like the NRA are largely to blame. Speaking on the public radio show The Florida Roundup, Jolly urged Democrats to work with law enforcement to push through popular proposals like stricter background checks and bans on assault-style weapons.

JOLLY: Republicans are standing in the way of gun reform. Democrats have an opportunity to change the game, triangulate and outflank the NRA on this issue.

MCCAMMON: But advocates for tighter gun laws face a difficult battle, given that so many other massive tragedies have come and gone without yielding major change. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Parkland, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.