PARKLAND/TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) – Student and parent activists from the Florida high school where 17 teens and staff members were slain last week in a shooting rampage will hold a rally on Wednesday at the state capital, calling for a ban on assault-style rifles.
Last week’s massacre, the second-deadliest shooting at a public school in U.S. history, has inflamed a national debate about gun rights and prompted young people from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and across the United States to demand action for stricter firearms controls.
“We’re here to make sure this never happens again,” Diego Pfeiffer, a senior at Stoneman, told a crowd that included hundreds of students from a Tallahassee high school on Tuesday after arriving at the capital.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student expelled from Stoneman Douglas High for disciplinary problems, was arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Authorities say he was armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 assault-style rifle that he legally purchased from a licensed gun dealer last year, when he was 18.
The Republican-controlled Florida House of Representatives rebuffed a bid to bring up a bill to block sales of assault-style rifles in the state.
Florida’s legislature has taken up at least two bills during its current session intended to provide broader access to guns. But signaling a possible shift, state Senator Bill Galvan, the chamber’s next president, called for a bill to raise the legal age limit for purchasing assault rifles from 18 to 21, the same as it is for handguns. The legislature’s current session ends on March 9, leaving little time for a vote.
Calls for national student walkouts and marches in the coming months were gaining steam on social media. That included the “March for Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, D.C., spearheaded by some Parkland students.
The youth-led protest movement that erupted within hours of the shooting attracted prominent celebrity supporters on Tuesday when film star George Clooney and his wife Amal, a human rights lawyer, said they would donate $500,000 to help fund a gun control march in Washington planned for March 24.
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and media mogul Oprah Winfrey later joined in, contributing $500,000 each toward the march.
A Washington Postal News opinion poll released on Tuesday showed 77 percent of Americans believe the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress is doing too little to prevent mass shootings, with 62 percent saying President Donald Trump, also a Republican, has not done enough on that front.
Trump said on Tuesday he had signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to draw up regulations banning devices that turn firearms into machine guns, like the bump stock used in October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Students and parents elsewhere in Florida and in other states, including Tennessee and Minnesota, staged sympathy protests on Tuesday. Miami’s WTVJ-TV showed video of about 1,000 teens and adults marching from a high school in Boca Raton to the site of the Parkland shooting, about 12 miles (20 km) to the west.
Gun violence on public school and college campuses has become so commonplace in the United States during the past several years that education officials regularly stage drills to train students and staff about what they should do in the event of a mass shooting on school grounds.
Gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and remains one of the nation’s more divisive issues. A federal ban on assault weapons, in force for 10 years, expired in 2004.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday said it given a rare posthumous letter of acceptance to Peter Wang, a student killed in the shooting. A Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, Wang had aspired to attend the elite academy.
Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee