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FL Survivors to Face Lawamakers        02/21 06:12

   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-style 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.

   "They're voting to have shootings continually happen. These people who voted 
down the bill haven't experienced what we did. I want to say to them, 'It could 
be you,'" 16-year-old Noah Kaufman said as he made the 400-mile (640-kilometer) 
trip to Tallahassee.

   Three buses carried 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 their school colors.

   They spent the seven-hour ride checking their phones, watching videos and 
reading comments on social media about the shooting, some of which accused them 
of being liberal pawns.

   About 500 Leon High School students and parents applauded as the students 
got off the bus from Broward County.

   Stoneman Douglas senior Diego Pfeiffer thanked his Tallahassee counterparts 
as a group of Broward County students stood behind him on the school steps.

   "This isn't about school shootings. This isn't about violence anymore. This 
is about hope. This is about moving forward," Pfeiffer told the crowd.

   As the grieving Florida students demanded action on guns, 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 Trump, a strong and vocal 
supporter of gun rights. He added that his administration was working hard to 
respond to the Florida rampage.

   Meanwhile at the Florida 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-style rifles such as the 
AR-15 that was wielded by the suspect, Nikolas 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."

   Lizzie Eaton, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spent the 
day lobbying senators of both parties and concluded that lawmakers were "just 
not listening to us."

   The vote was "heartbreaking," she said. "But we're not going to stop."

   The students planned to hold a rally Wednesday to put more pressure on the 
Legislature.

   "I really think they are going to hear us out," said Chris Grady, a high 
school senior aboard 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. Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, 
convened groups assigned to propose measures for protecting schools from gun 
violence.

   Lawmakers will probably say that getting a new bill passed is nearly 
impossible with only two and a half weeks left in the legislative session. Some 
lawmakers who are thinking of running on a statewide ticket are mindful of 
their sensitive positions, since gun owners make up huge voting blocs in some 
parts of the state, especially the Panhandle.

   Wilson said he knows the students "want something to happen," and they need 
"a moment to come and make their case."

   But, he said, "the thought that you get to wave a wand and change the law is 
something that is probably going to collide with reality."

   The Parkland students also plan to meet Wednesday with top legislative 
leaders, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe 
Negron.

   Florida has a reputation for expanding gun rights. Negron sponsored a 2011 
bill that Scott signed into law that banned cities and counties from regulating 
gun and ammunition sales.

   Authorities said 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.

   The Senate is also considering boosting spending on mental health programs 
for schools and giving law-enforcement greater power to involuntarily hold 
someone considered a danger to themselves. The chamber will also look at a 
proposal to deputize a teacher or someone else at school so they are authorized 
to have a gun.

   Kyle Kashuv, a 16-year-old student at the high school, said he was pro-gun 
prior to the shooting.

   "I had no issue with anyone having a gun of any caliber," said Kashuv, as he 
rode in the bus to Tallahassee. "I was all for it. But after the situation, I 
realized we have some issues in our society and it has to be addressed.

   The fact that someone who was so steadfast in support of gun rights now 
acknowledges the need for changes "really shows how important what we're doing 
is," he said.


(KA)

 
 
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