PARKLAND, Fla. -- Thousands of students, parents, teachers and neighbors of a Florida high school where 17 people were killed demanded on Saturday that immediate action be taken on gun-control legislation, insisting they would not relent until their demands were met.
The rally in downtown Fort Lauderdale gave a political outlet to the growing feelings of rage and mourning sparked by the carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Authorities say a former student who had been expelled, had mental-health problems and been reported to law enforcement agencies used a legally purchased semi-automatic rifle to kill students and staff members.
"Because of these gun laws, people that I know, people that I love, have died, and I will never be able to see them again," Delaney Tarr, a student at the school, told the crowd swamping the steps and courtyard at the federal courthouse.
The crowd chanted: "Vote them out!" and held signs calling for action. Some read: "#Never Again," "#Do something now" and "Don't Let My Friends Die."
"A lot of people are saying that these kids are activists, these kids need to be politicians," student Emma Gonzalez told a reporter. "But a lot of us are just other students who figured there's strength in numbers. And we want to be sure that we end up having our message sent across. And then we can get back to our normal everyday lives, you know."
Laurie Woodward Garcia, the mother of a 14-year-old girl, said she believed that this shooting would lead to change, though so many others had not.
"If there's something that we can unite on as Democrats and Republicans and independents, it's our children. So it will happen," she said.
"Look what we started," said Carlos Rodriguez, 50, who was on his way to work when he stopped to join the protest. "Look at all these people. One match started a whole forest fire."
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Photos by The Associated Press
Photos by The Associated Press
"We're not a politically charged community -- this is new, because we've had enough," said Grace Solomon, a city commissioner who is organizing a large group of parents and students to travel to Tallahassee, the state capital, and then to Washington to demand "common-sense gun legislation."
"Parkland families have really involved parents; they are not going to take this sitting down," Solomon said. "We have an army of moms who are tired of having their kids assaulted. Democrats and Republicans are coming together to find common ground we can bring to Tallahassee."
Separately, organizers behind the Women's March have called for a 17-minute walkout on March 14 to "protest Congress' inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods."
The Network for Public Education, an advocacy organization for public schools, meanwhile, announced a "national day of action" on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two students opened fire on their classmates, killing 12 students and one teacher.
The organization is encouraging teachers and students to organize sit-ins, walkouts, marches and any other events to protest gun violence in schools.
The Florida Legislature is grappling with what to do in the aftermath of the shooting. Legislators have just three weeks left in their annual 60-day session.
Democrats want the Legislature to take up gun-control bills that have languished again this year, but Republican legislative leaders are talking about boosting mental-health programs in Florida's public schools as well considering measures that would bolster safety on school campuses.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he plans to talk to legislative leaders in the coming week about what could be done to make it harder for people who are mentally ill to purchase guns.
Senate and House leaders also have said they are willing to help pay to tear down the three-story building where the shootings happened and place a memorial on the site. It could cost up to $30 million to replace the school building and place a new one in a different location on the campus.
Some GOP legislators wanted to consider a bill to put trained armed volunteers or school employees inside the state's public schools. The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to take up the legislation, SB1236, but Sen. Greg Steube, the committee chairman, announced late Friday that the measure would not be taken up after all. Steube made his decision after several top senators said they were opposed to considering the bill. Groups opposed to the bill flooded legislators with phone calls the past two days.
Florida has relatively few restrictions on gun ownership. Unlike California, for example, Florida does not require background checks for private gun sales. It does not regulate sales of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines, although federal law requires assault-weapon buyers from a licensed dealer to be at least 18. State laws also prohibit cities from passing gun restrictions.
Democratic politicians and others are pointing to the success of states like Connecticut in addressing the spiraling toll of gun violence.
In the aftermath of the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed in 2012, state lawmakers set out to draft some of the toughest gun measures in the country.
They largely succeeded -- significantly expanding a ban on the sale of assault weapons, prohibiting the sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds and requiring the registration of assault rifles and higher-capacity magazines. The state also required background checks for all firearms sales and created a registry of weapons offenders, including those accused of illegally possessing firearms.
President Donald Trump alluded to gun laws in a tweet Saturday, accusing congressional Democrats of not favoring new gun laws: "Just like they don't want to solve the DACA problem, why didn't the Democrats pass gun control legislation when they had both the House & Senate during the Obama Administration. Because they didn't want to, and now they just talk!"
Meanwhile, a prominent Republican political donor demanded on Saturday that the party pass legislation to restrict access to guns, and vowed not to contribute to any candidates or electioneering groups that did not support a ban on the sale of military-style firearms to civilians.
Al Hoffman Jr., a Florida real estate developer who has donated millions to Republican candidates and causes over the years, said he would seek to marshal support among other Republican political donors for a renewed assault-weapons ban.
"For how many years now have we been doing this -- having these experiences of terrorism, mass killings -- and how many years has it been that nothing's been done?" Hoffman said in an interview. "It's the end of the road for me."
Hoffman announced his ultimatum in an email to half a dozen Republican leaders, including Jeb Bush and Scott, the governor. He wrote in the email that he would not give money to Scott, who is considering a campaign for the Senate in 2018, or other Florida Republicans he has backed in the past, including Rep. Brian Mast, if they did not support new gun legislation.
Alluding to past mass killings, Hoffman argued in his email that future gun massacres were inevitable without government intervention: "If we go from Orlando to Las Vegas, and now Parkland, you just have to know that there are others around the country just dreaming about staging another mass murder."
Information for this article was contributed by Jason Dearen, Allen Breed, Tamara Lush, Sudhin S. Thanawala, Michael Warren and other staff members of The Associated Press; by Alexander Burns, Lisa W. Foderaro and Kristin Hussey of The New York Times; and by Kevin Sullivan, Tim Craig, William Wan and Renae Merle of The Washington Post.
A public memorial to school shooting victim Meadow Pollack sits against a cross Saturday in Parkland, Fla.
A Section on 02/18/2018
Print Headline: Florida grief turns into activism; Ralliers call for changes to gun laws