Students March on Tallahassee as Florida GOP Considers Gun Limits

By Daniel Ducassi

TALLAHASSEE — Survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting in suburban Fort Lauderdale descended on Florida’s capitol Wednesday as the Republican-majority Legislature — normally friendly territory for the National Rife Association — considered whether to advance new limits on gun access.

The students-turned-lobbyists are scheduled to meet with a long list of Florida’s top leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, state Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Senate President Joe Negron and state House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Organizers say they have 70 meetings planned before the students leave Tallahassee tonight and return to South Florida.

The frenzied action in the Capitol this week is a sharp contrast to how state lawmakers reacted after a gunman slaughtered 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.

And behind the scenes, Florida’s House leaders were discussing backing legislation calling for age restrictions and waiting periods for the purchase of guns typically characterized as assault rifles — a sign of how the shooting has roiled the politics of gun ownership in Florida.

“I just want to be a part of the movement for gun control, mental health reform, for anything we can do to prevent more kids, more teachers and more innocent lives being lost to mass shootings and to gun violence,” Olivia Feller, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting claimed 17 lives, told POLITICO. “I just really hope that Stoneman Douglas can be the last and that students from my school, that we together can push forward and actually make the change.”

She said she’d support a ban on assault rifles, along with more armed school resource officers and measures to address mental health.

“We are, honestly at this point, begging them to do something, to save our lives, to save teachers’ lives,” she said.

Feller was discouraged when she heard the House on Tuesday turned down a chance to bring an assault weapons ban straight to the floor.

“It was just so disappointing it wasn’t even close,” she said. She said she wants to ask legislative leaders, “which do you value more: guns or kids’ lives?”

Last week’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people, including 14 students, dead and more than a dozen others hospitalized after a lone gunman opened fire at the school. The suspected gunman later confessed and has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Florida’s worst school shooting turned grieving students into political activists. Over the weekend, students spoke at a rally in Fort Lauderdale that drew thousands and national media attention.

The Stoneman Douglas students are pushing a bipartisan message in the hopes of spurring lawmakers to act. And in Tallahassee, they got a crash course in lobbying from one the state’s most influential lobbyists, Ron Book.

It’s not about political parties, Book told the students Tuesday night — “it’s about how you advocate and present your message. And presenting your message is about your story.”

“There is going to be a package and it is going to pass. I can’t tell you we’re going to get everything we want,” he added.

State Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) coordinated the students’ visit to Tallahassee. She said she personally paid for the cost of the buses and meals for the students.

Cindy Damien, a fourth grade teacher at Park Trails Elementary in Broward County and the mother of a senior and a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, said lawmakers aren’t doing enough to keep schools safe.

“There’s too many… cracks, there’s just too many,” she said. “If they’re not going to tighten up those laws, then we need to tighten up our gates.”

Students met with state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart Wednesday morning. Melissa Camilo, 15, a freshman who said she was in the building when the shooting happened, told reporters she thought one of the most important things the students spoke about with Stewart was the locks on classroom doors.

“Teachers shouldn’t have to go on the outside to lock the door, because that takes so much time. Within those seconds, someone could get hurt,” she said.

Dozens of students wearing blue shirts that stated “We call B.S.” in the Senate gallery Wednesday. It was a reference to a speech last week made by Stoneman Douglas senior Emma Gonzalez slamming political leaders for their failure to prevent the tragedy.

Source: Politico Pro