TALLAHASSEE — Students who survived last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School traveled to the Florida state Capitol Wednesday to demand that lawmakers take action on gun control.
“We’re going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can’t happen anymore,” asserted 16-year-old Alfonso Calderon.
The determined tone and mindset was shared almost universally among the assembled students.
“We’re not going to be the school that got shot, we’re going to be the school that got shot and made something happen,” declared 15-year-old Rachel Catania. “A change is going to happen.”
Assisting the students with their presentations to the Senate was Broward County Senator Lauren Book, who stayed the night at the Civic Center with the students and helped them prepare for their encounters with lawmakers.
“It has been a very, very difficult, tough night,” Book said. “It’s in those quiet moments that the reality of this stuff, without all the noise sets in. In any given moment, there’s tears. It’s raw and it’s there.”
When the hour came, the kids divided into different groups to address politicians on topics ranging from gun control to the mental health side of the gun debate. Of particular focus to the students was the availability of guns like the AR-15, which Nikolas Cruz used at their school and which the students would like to see banned.
“That’s an issue that we’re reviewing,” Florida Senate President Joe Negron responded when queried about the devastating weapon.
While the answer may have been a dodge, the Senate didn’t flinch from the issues entirely, and even opened the day’s session by displaying pictures of the 17 victims of the recent shooting.
While a ban on semi-automatic rifles may not be likely, Democrats nonetheless attempted to get such a bill to the floor; they were blocked by the more dominant Republican faction. There is, however, some momentum to measures to get such rifles treated more like handguns (whose purchase has more restrictions) than long guns. If successful, the measures would see semi-automatic rifles unable to be purchased by anyone who is under 21 or shows signs of mental illness.
School senior Diego Pfeiffer was perhaps the most realistic in his aims for the session.
“The best case scenario is we move a step forward and that’s all we’re asking here,” he said. “We’re asking to help save student lives. Whether it’s funding or mental health or gun safety or any of that sort of stuff—I am pro any of that.”
Progress on the polarizing issue may indeed consist of “baby steps,” but thanks to the students of Stoneman Douglas, at least the debate still wages on.