Students Converge on Florida’s Capitol Building



Governor Rick Scott and lawmakers proposed the most significant change in gun control for Florida in decades, on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. They are backing new limits that defy the National Rifle Association (NRA) but they do not meet the demands made by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week.

Student Protests at the Capitol

Activists spent Wednesday night on the lawn of the Tallahassee Civic Center. Some of them spent the night researching lawmakers and revising their speeches. When they awoke, they marched up the hill to the capitol together. Their goal was to urge senators and representatives to impose new restrictions on guns, including a ban on the sale of military-style weapons. Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 in the shooting rampage at their school. The former student has been charged in the deaths of 17 students and teachers.

During the walk to the capitol, one student expressed difficulty in putting her thoughts into words. The incident still felt surreal to her.

Sixteen-year-olds Olivia Feller and Anthony Lopez were finishing up a review of state legislators. They had a list of who supported what and who might be swayed. Feller said that she and Lopez were tired but ready to confront specific lawmakers.

Republican Senator Aaron Bean saw the group of students coming up the hill and hurried into the building. He told a reporter that seeing them brought him “angst.” There is a lot of emotions coming with the group. The senator stated, “Kids shouldn’t have to worry about that. It’s already tough enough being a teenager, without worrying about things like that.” When asked if he would vote in favor of anything that would prevent more mass school shootings, he said it was too early to say.

Once inside the building, the students split into groups of 10. Democratic Senator Lauren Book helped the students schedule meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the isle. The groups were prepared to meet with over 70 elected officials.

Group six and two parent chaperones met with Democratic Representative Patricia H. Williams and Republican Senator Debbie Mayfield, who agreed there needed to be a change. She suggested raising the age-limit to purchase assault weapons. However, she rebuffed criticism from 16-year-old Daniel Bishop who stated that changing age requirements would not prevent deaths. Mayfield told them, “We can’t stop crazies.”

Amanda De La Cruz, also 16, told the senator she wanted a ban on semi-automatic weapons.” The New York Times did not report if the senator had a response for De La Cruz.

The students went to the House floor. Speaker of the House, Republican Richard Corcoran agreed to take questions from the students, after he promised to unveil the “most sweeping gun reform package in the nation’s history by Friday

Sixteen-year-old Alondra Gittelson wanted to know why “such a destructive gun is accessible to the public. How does someone acquire such a weapon?

Corcoran said he would be in favor of banning assault weapons like the AR-15. He said that they were mainly used in hunting different animals such as boar. “You can disagree, but what I tell my kids – and being in elected office, you have to be very, very, very careful how much authority and power you bring to government. The greatest atrocities known to mankind have been committed by governments.” He did not believe that banning assault weapons was the solution to mass shootings.

At noontime, hundreds of people had gathered on capitol property in support of the students from Stoneman Douglas High School. The tone inside the building as protestor flooded the building.

Before the protestors arrived, the conversations were impassioned but respectful. However, as the day went on, protestors carried signs and petitions by the boxload.  They crowded the doorway of Governor Scott’s office and shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” They gathered outside Corcoran’s office shouting, “Face us down! Face us down!”

The students put the pressure on Florida lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws while others gathered in support around the country. At Coral Springs High School, over 1,000 students formed an impressively large heart on the athletic field and walked five miles to Stoneman Douglas High School. Eighteen-year-old Christopher Lormeus walked six miles from Coconut Creek High School because he said, “Seventeen lives are more important that gun rights.”

Outside Tampa, thousands of students walked out of classrooms and stood in silence for 17 minutes. In Montgomery County, Maryland, students left school early to rally in from the capitol. In Kentucky, students chanted, “Never again!” Students at Mesa High School in Arizona also supported the efforts of the Stoneman Douglas protestors. One student stated, “This is our mark on history.”

Some schools would not allow such protesting. At Needville High School, outside Houston, Texas, administrators threatened students with a three-day suspension if they protested during school hours. The superintendent said, “Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence, whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline not matter if it is one, 50, or 500 students involved.”

Florida Governor Unveils New Gun Control Proposal

Governor Scott unveiled his plan, on Friday, Feb. 23. Florida lawmakers are raising the age to buy firearms from 19 to 21. He also promised to strengthen background checks and rules to prevent people from purchasing firearms, who have mental-health issues, injunctions against them for stalking or domestic violence. “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.

Students were disappointed that the new gun control laws stopped shot of a ban on assault weapons, but they were not surprised, and they are not giving up. The students acknowledge that it is at least a start. They are also proud to have made progress in such a short time. Nevertheless, there is more to be done.

The students were able to accomplish what the mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub, in 2017 and the shooting in Fort Lauderdale last year could not. They made a difference where the NRA has held influence for a significant time.

For over seven years, Governor Scott has opposed tightening background checks and supported lowering the cost for a concealed weapons permit. In turn, the NRA sent email blasts, flooding voters inboxes with pro-Scott mailings during his re-election campaign in 2014. Scott stated that he is a member of the NRA and he supports the First Amendment, the Second Amendment and the complete Bill of Rights. However, he is also a father, a grandfather, and a governor. Balancing individual rights with the need for public safety will be a difficult task, he said on Friday.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson denounced the proposals of Scott. He said they failed to include comprehensive criminal background checks and ban assault weapons. People across the state of Florida are demanding change. Instead of listening to the constituents, he accused the governor of listening to the NRA, again. Raising the age to purchase a gun to 21 is the bare minimum, according to Nelson.

The survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting emerged as powerful voices in the national debate on gun control.

President Donald J. Trump and the NRA both support arming educators. However, Florida state lawmakers did not follow their lead. Scott’s plan included placing one armed police officer for every thousand students. Would that be enough?

Armed Officer at School Did Nothing

There was an armed officer assigned to Stoneman Douglas High School. Deputy Scot Peterson stood outside of the school and did nothing while Cruz shot through the hallways of the school.

According to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, Peterson resigned after he was suspended for his failure to act. Sheriff Israel said, “I am devastated. Sick to my stomach. He never went in.”

Fifty-four-year-old Peterson was the school resource officer. He was armed, in uniform, and present at the time of the shooting. Video footage showed Peterson arriving 90 seconds after shots were fired. However, he did not go inside the school. He stood outside the building for four minutes. The shooting lasted six minutes.

Israel said Peterson should have gone inside, addressed the killer, and killed the shooter.

Peterson has not publicly commented on his actions. According to the BBC, officers are currently guarding his home.

According to Israel, Peterson did not give a reason for his failure to act. Israel said he would not be releasing the video and depending on the prosecution for Cruz, may never release the video. It is unclear if Peterson will face charges.

Peterson was the school resource officer. He was responsible for the safety of the students and crime prevention in the school. They are employed by local police or sheriff’s office. They document incidents at the school and work in areas like mentoring and education under their scope of practice.

It was reported that the person watching the surveillance cameras was relaying information 20 minutes after the incident happened. Officers were told Cruz was in a specific location, when he was no longer there. It is believed there is a delay in the surveillance cameras.

Teachers will be allowed back into the school on Friday, Feb. 23. Students and teachers were invited to attend a reorientation on Sunday, Feb. 25, before returning to school on Wednesday, Feb. 28. The school district is having the building that was attacked torn down.

By Jeanette Smith


The New York Times: Florida Students Began With Optimism. Then They Spoke to Lawmakers
The New York Times: Defying N.R.A., Florida Lawmakers Back Raising Age Limits on Assault Rifles
BBC: Florida school shooting: Armed officer ‘did not confront killer’

Image Courtesy of Ashley Grant’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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