TALLAHASSEE, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Dozens of teenaged survivors of the second deadliest public school shooting in U.S. history marched on Florida’s capital on Wednesday to ask lawmakers to ban sales of assault rifles of the sort used to kill 17 students and educators last week.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, became the latest school targeted by a gunman using a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle, heated up the nation’s long-running debate about gun rights and public safety.
Dressed in jeans and T-shirts and carrying signs with the slogan “#Neveragain,” survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting met with lawmakers in Tallahassee, to ask for stricter controls on gun sales.
Investigators said the assault was carried out by 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, who purchased an AR-15 nearly a year ago. Police have charged Cruz, who had been kicked out of Douglas for disciplinary problems, with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“We want to see some common sense gun laws so this will never happen again,” said Rachel Padnis, a 16-year-old sophomore from the school near Fort Lauderdale.
She and classmates said they were dismayed but undeterred by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature’s Tuesday rebuff of a bid to bring up a bill to block sales of assault rifles.
President Donald Trump, a strong supporter of gun rights, was due to meet later Wednesday with parents, students and teachers who have been victims of gun violence, including those affected by the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida.
The White House meeting comes a day after Trump said his administration would take steps to ban bump stocks, an accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute. A spokeswoman said the administration was open to the idea of setting national age limits on sales of assault rifles.
Florida state Senator Bill Galvan, slated to be the upper chamber’s next president, has called for a bill to raise the legal age for purchasing assault rifles from 18 to 21, the same as it is for handguns.
At the Florida capital in Tallahassee, dozens of students packed into a meeting room and peppered Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, with questions about why individuals should have continued access to assault rifles.
Negron declined to say whether he would support any specific gun control measures, saying, “That’s an issue we’re going to look at as we work to develop legislation.”
U.S. President Donald Trump, a strong supporter of gun rights, was scheduled to host a “listening session” with high school students and teachers at the White House on Wednesday.
Trump’s support for any tightening of gun laws would mark a change for a Republican who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The NRA opposes an outright ban on bump stocks but has said it would be open to restrictions on the devices.
Under pressure after Parkland, the deadliest-ever shooting at a U.S. high school, Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to quickly complete a proposed rule that would treat “bump stocks” as machine guns, which could effectively outlaw them in the United States.
Last October, a retired real estate investor and high-stakes gambler used multiple assault rifles equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people at a Las Vegas outdoor concert, the deadliest attack by a single gunman in U.S. history. Bump stocks have not played a prominent role in other recent U.S. mass shootings.
Later this week, Trump will meet with local and state officials, and plans to talk with governors about the issue.
Trump generally favors a Senate bill on background checks, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday.
Calls for national student walk-outs and marches in the coming months have gained steam on social media, including the “March for Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, spearheaded by Douglas students.
Scattered school walk-outs in support of the Florida students were planned around the United States on Wednesday, according to officials and local media.
The NRA has agreed to participate in a televised town hall on guns to be broadcast by CNN later today, the news network said. NRA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gun violence on public school and college campuses has become so commonplace in the United States in the last several years that administrators regularly stage drills to train students and staff in the event of a mass shooting.
(Fixes typo in first name to Nikolas in 4th paragraph)
Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson in Parkland, Florida, and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jeffrey Benkoe