PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Students who survived the Florida school shooting began a journey Tuesday to the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to prevent another massacre, but within hours the gun-friendly Legislature had effectively halted any possibility of banning assault rifles like the one used in the attack.
The legislative action further energized the teens as they prepared to confront legislators who have quashed gun-control efforts for decades in a state where 1.3 million people have concealed carry permits.
Three buses set out for Tallahassee carrying 100 students who, in the aftermath of the attack that killed 17 people, want to revive the gun-control movement. The teens carried sleeping bags and pillows and hugged their parents as they departed, many wearing burgundy T-shirts in school colors.
They spent the seven-hour bus ride checking their phones, watching videos and reading comments on social media about the shooting, some of which accused them of being liberal pawns.
Meanwhile at the Statehouse, a Democratic representative asked for a procedural move that would have allowed the Republican-controlled House to consider a ban on large-capacity magazines and assault rifles such as the AR-15 that was wielded by the suspect, Nickolas Cruz.
The bill had been assigned to three committees but was not scheduled for a hearing. The House quickly nixed the Democratic motion. The vote broke down along party lines, and Republicans criticized Democrats for forcing the vote.
Because the committees will not meet again before the legislative session ends March 9, the move essentially extinguishes hope that lawmakers would vote on any sweeping measures to restrict assault rifles, although other proposals could still be considered.
“No one in the world with the slightest little hint of a soul isn’t moved by this tragedy,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson said. “The discussion has to be a longer, bigger and broader discussion.”
Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior, said he hoped the trip starts a conversation between the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott and the students over commonsense laws on guns.
“America is a gun society. That is what made (suspect) Nikolas Cruz seem normal. It is not normal for someone to have a stockpile of weapons in their room when they are mentally ill,” Calderon said.
The students planned to hold a rally Wednesday to put pressure on the Legislature.
“I really think they are going to hear us out,” said Chris Grady, a 19-year-old senior who was on the bus.
The Feb. 14 attack initially appeared to overcome the resistance of some in the state’s political leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999. However, many members of the party still have strong resistance to any gun-control measures.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they will consider raising age restrictions for gun purchases and temporarily revoking someone’s guns if that person is deemed a threat to others. As part of the flurry of activity in Tallahassee, the governor on Tuesday also convened groups assigned to propose measures for protecting schools from gun violence.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School get ready to board a bus for a trip to Tallahassee, Fla., to talk with lawmakers about the recent rampage at their school, in Parkland, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Sheryl Acquarola, a 16 year-old junior from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is overcome with emotion in the east gallery of the House of Representatives after the representatives voted not to hear the bill banning assault rifles and large capacity magazines at the Florida Capital in Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 20, 2018. Acquarola was one of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead, who were in Tallahassee channeling their anger and sadness into action. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Julia Salomone, 18, front row left, Lindsey Salomone, 15, front row right, Jose Iglesias, 17, second row left, and Isabelle Robinson, 17, second row right, student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday, talk on their bus between Parkland, Fla., and Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, to rally outside the state capitol and talk to legislators about gun control reform. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)