‘Never again!’ Florida shooting survivors confront lawmakers; protests gain steam nationwide

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Students from Broward county speak with Republican legislators

TALLAHASSEE – Scores of students from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rallied alongside hundreds from other schools Wednesday as their fervent demands for safe schools and an end to gun violence gained momentum across the nation.

Students from California to Washington, D.C., held walkouts in solidarity with the teens from Parkland, survivors of last week’s horrific rampage that left 17 people dead and prompted outrage at the National Rifle Association and lawmakers.

The energized crowd at the state Capitol waved signs and chanted, “Never again!” and “Shame on you!”

Lorenzo Prado, a Stoneman Douglas junior, choked up as he told of being mistaken for the gunman in the chaotic minutes after the shooting started. He said a SWAT team ordered him to the ground at gunpoint and handcuffed him. Prado, near tears, said he felt guilty for the people he could not protect.

“Many would blame this event on the FBI’s lack of action or the Trump administration,” Prado said. “The simple fact is that the laws of this beloved country allowed for the deranged gunman to purchase a gun legally.”

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Florence Yared, 17, joined the chorus of students saying they won’t feel safe when they return to school next week.

“No longer can I walk the halls I walked a million times before without fear and sadness,” she said. “All because of the damage that a single AR-15 rifle caused.”

The rally came one day after Florida lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected — along party lines in the heavily GOP Statehouse — a ban on many semiautomatic rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines. Many of the Parkland students voiced support for such a ban.

State lawmakers expressed support for other proposals endorsed by the students, such as deeper background checks and stricter gun rules for people with mental health issues. Gov. Rick Scott promised a package of proposals by Friday, and President Trump was scheduled to meet with survivors of gun violence Wednesday.

The Parkland students met in small groups with state lawmakers, and many of the teens expressed frustration over the chats. 

“I was speechless. I had anger, dismay, shock,” Spencer Blum, 16, a junior, said of the Statehouse vote. “They had even introduced us, they knew we were up there. The beautiful choir sang a prayer for us. They knew we just went through a mass shooting that killed 17 people.”

About 200 students at Oasis High School in Cape Coral, Fla., walked out to the school’s tennis courts, demanding more security and more resource officers. Among their supporters: Jacquelin Collins, superintendent of the Cape Coral charter school system.

“I support it 100%,” Collins said. “I’m glad they had the gumption to get up and speak, and I’m very proud of them.”

Curtis Rhodes, superintendent of schools in Needville, Texas, 40 miles southwest of Houston, promised a three-day suspension for protesters, parental note or not.

“Life is all about choices, and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative,” Rhodes warned in a statement. “We will discipline, no matter if it is one, 50 or 500 students involved.”

In Arizona, 200 students at Gilbert High, east of Phoenix, gathered for 17 minutes of silence — one minute for each fatality in Florida. In Delaware, more than 150 Wilmington Friends School students gathered at the flagpole for 17 minutes, demanding stricter gun laws.

“I think we just need to start trying things,”  Friends sophomore Abby Vandenbrul said. “I think we have to stop debating and start doing things before another tragedy happens.” 

In Washington, hundreds of high schoolers gathered outside the White House, chanting, “No guns, no NRA, no violence in the USA!” Hundreds more at the U.S. Capitol shouted, “Enough is enough!”


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