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Students From Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Rallying For Gun Control in Tallahassee

Feb 21, 2018
Originally published on February 21, 2018 7:01 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was an extraordinary day at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. Nearly a hundred students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School roamed the halls meeting with lawmakers, demanding answers and asking difficult questions. From Tallahassee, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: They rode here from Parkland yesterday on buses, a ride of several hours. They slept on cots in the city's convention center, were up bright and early to make their voices heard.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Never again, never again, never again, never again...

ALLEN: The #NeverAgain movement took shape in the hours and days following last week's horrific shooting. It includes high school seniors like Diego Pfeiffer. Before the shooting, he says he never thought about school safety or guns.

DIEGO PFEIFFER: My main issues were going to a state competition for drama or planning an orchestra fieldtrip. That was what was taking up my day. I've learned terror. I've learned grief. I've learned sorrow, and I've learned hope.

ALLEN: Every student has their own ideas of what they want from lawmakers. Many are calling for an outright ban on guns like the AR-15-style weapon used in Parkland. Sixteen-year-old Kosha Patel believes Florida needs to spend more on mental health to keep guns out of the hands of clearly troubled people like the person charged with killing the 17 people in Parkland, Nikolas Cruz.

KOSHA PATEL: I don't think 17 lives should have been lost for us to have to done this. But it came to that point, and I'm really happy that we're doing this 'cause it's really important for those 17 lives.

ALLEN: Gun control has never been an issue that's gotten much traction in Florida's legislature. In recent years, most legislation here has expanded gun rights. But the tragedy in Parkland and the voices of the teenage survivors have had an impact.

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JOE NEGRON: We will now honor the 17 citizens who died at Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, February 14.

ALLEN: With a few dozen students from Stoneman Douglas and other Broward County high schools in the visitor's gallery, Florida Senate President Joe Negron called for a moment of silence. Negron and some other senators attended the funeral of one of the students, Peter Wang, yesterday. Students say Wang was killed while holding the door open so others could escape. Negron says Wang's parents told them their son always felt a responsibility to look out for others.

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NEGRON: Each of the 14 students and three adults who died have extraordinary stories of heroism, bravery and character.

ALLEN: One measure of the impact of Parkland is that Republican leaders in Florida's House and Senate along with Governor Rick Scott are developing proposals that would tighten some of the state's gun laws. Among the proposals is one that would raise the age for purchasing any firearm in Florida to 21. Under Florida law, Nikolas Cruz wasn't able to buy a handgun until he turned 21 but was able to legally purchase and AR-15-style rifle.

There are also proposals to strengthen background checks and to give law enforcement tools to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a threat to themselves or others. But for students like Julia Bishop, that's just a start. States like Connecticut that banned high-powered semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines, she said, have seen gun-related deaths decline. And at a meeting with the speaker of the Florida House, she put him on the spot.

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JULIA BISHOP: I wanted to know if they're - like, just looking at these statistics, if there would possibly be bipartisan support for banning semiautomatic weapons. And if not, I want to know why.

ALLEN: House Speaker Richard Corcoran said everything is under consideration. But in the same breath, he said he's skeptical tighter gun laws are the answer.

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RICHARD CORCORAN: There is conflicting evidence to that. The four cities with the strongest gun laws are Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. They have the highest rate of death by gun.

ALLEN: While the students from Parkland talked one-on-one with lawmakers, thousands of gun safety advocates gathered outside the Capitol with a message for those who stand in their way.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Vote them out. Vote them out. Vote them out.

ALLEN: The #NeverAgain movement is growing. There were walkouts in support of the Parkland students today at other high schools, including dozens in Miami-Dade and in Broward County. Greg Allen, NPR News, Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.