As It Happens

Florida senator stands behind students calling for assault rifle ban

"They're very engaging, they're articulate and they're mad," Sen. Linda Steward said of the students who marched on the Florida capitol on Wednesday.
Students chant protest slogans outside the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee on Wednesday. (Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press)
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Story transcript

Sen. Linda Stewart says she will tack amendments onto every piece of gun legislation that passes through the Florida Senate this session until assault-type weapons are banned.  

Her fellow lawmakers postponed hearings on two pro-gun bills Wednesday after Stewart introduced amendments to ban assault-style weapons and their high-capacity magazines.

The Democratic state senator says she is standing behind the Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivors who marched on the state capitol in Tallahassee to demand gun control. 

Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the second deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school. Cruz legally purchased a semi-automatic AR-15 assault-style rifle from a licensed gun dealer last year when he was 18, authorities said.

As It Happens spoke to Stewart about the student-led effort to ban the AR-15 and other weapons like it. 

Here is part of their conversation.

Can you describe the scene at the state capitol today?

It was amazing and the people were energized — our students that came up, and those that came from all over the state of Florida.

They are very engaging, they're articulate and they are mad.

Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart speaks from the podium at the Tallahassee rally in support of gun control on Wednesday. (Submitted by Ali Akın Kurnaz)

What effect is that having on legislators in Tallahassee today?

Well, I'm starting to see a little break in their resolve. But we haven't gotten there yet, and I still have an assault weapon ban bill that I filed two years ago, and subsequently filed again this year, and it would have no attention to it at all until now.

You tried to introduce that bill today, to introduce it as an amendment. The students, how did they react when that didn't go through?

Well, they're not supposed to say anything in the gallery, but they did. 

How did they react?

I think I heard "boo" a few times, loudly.

And was anyone willing to sanction them for making noises out there?

No. No, not one single person.

Florida's not only a state that supports very liberal gun laws; it's been called the blueprint of much of the pro-gun legislation that's been adopted throughout the United States. So you're up against — and the students are up against — some powerful opposition. What do you think you can possibly accomplish, even after this massacre at this school?

We have two weeks left in session and I plan to continue to amend my assault weapons ban on any bill that comes before us that is germane to guns.

After Orlando in 2016, the Pulse night club, Fort Lauderdale — same efforts.

But it didn't work. In fact, you didn't get a hearing for those. The gun laws in Florida were liberalized after those shootings. So what might break through at this point?

When Pulse happened, it was sometime in June, so summertime. But this time, we're in session.

So the House and Senate is in session. They are open to these protests — and they're huge protests. So they're getting a lot more pressure put on them to do something besides a window dressing.

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So what might they do?

The things that they're talking about, I agree with them — mental health counselling, [improving safety at] the schools, a waiting period on gun purchase.

All of those things I do support. The problem is one of the areas that they wanted to control was to put a restriction on the AR-15 so you have to be 25 years of age to buy one.

The problem is in Las Vegas, the guy was over 50. And at Pulse, the guy was 29 years old. So that's not really a solution. 

And that's not going to satisfy those kids, is it?

Oh heavens, no. No, that is not going to satisfy them in the least.

If they don't identify the gun that is used so that they can be restricted, they are not going to be happy. Anything short of that, they're going to be outraged.

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