'We are going to be the last school shooting': Student survivors at Florida rally call for gun law changes
Rally in Fort Lauderdale comes as state legislators struggle with shooting that killed 17
Tearful student survivors of Wednesday's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were among speakers at an emotionally charged gun control rally Saturday outside a courthouse some 40 kilometres from where 17 people were killed.
Parents, teachers, school officials, union leaders and government representatives were also among those speaking to hundreds at the rally in Fort Lauderdale, three days after the deadliest shooting at a high school in the country.
One teen, Emma Gonzalez, angrily criticized politicians who take campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association, and challenged them to stop taking money.
She also said adults who knew that the alleged shooter was mentally ill should have done more to prevent him from having a weapon.
They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS.- Emma Gonzalez, student
Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in a shooting that also wounded more than a dozen people. Checks on Cruz, who was expelled from the school, have revealed he's an orphan who had been in therapy for mental-health issues.
"We are going to be the last mass shooting," Emma vowed. "We know that they are claiming that there are mental-health issues, and I am not a psychologist, but we need to pay attention to the fact that this is not just a mental-health issue. He wouldn't have hurt that many students with a knife.
NRA funding criticized
"Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this. We call BS," she said. "They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS."
Cameron Kasky, another student who was in the school on Valentine's Day when gunfire rang out, said: "This is about creating a badge of shame to put on anybody who is accepting money from the NRA: Republican, Democrat, Independent. This is about the NRA and keeping them out of our politics and out of our schools."
Laurie Woodward Garcia, the mother of a 14-year-old girl, echoed many in the crowd, who said they believed that this shooting would lead to change, though so many others had not.
"If there's something that we can unite on as Democrats and Republicans and Independents, it's our children. So it will happen," she said.
Calls for gun control and other changes to laws come as the state legislature grapples with what to do in the aftermath of the shooting that left 17 people dead and grief-stricken community members holding more funerals.
Legislators have just three weeks left in their annual 60-day session. Normally, lawmakers try to wrap up work on a new state budget in the final days.
But the shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas has revived an ongoing legislative debate about how to respond to gun violence.
Democrats want the legislature to take up gun control bills that have languished again this year, but Republican legislative leaders are talking about boosting mental health programs in Florida's public schools as well as considering measures that would bolster safety on school campuses.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he plans to talk to legislative leaders in the coming week about what could be done to make it harder for people who are mentally ill to purchase a gun.
Senate and House leaders have also said they are willing to help pay to tear down the three-story building where the shootings happened and place a memorial on the site. It could cost up to $30 million to replace the school building with a new building placed in a different location on the campus.
Prayers for healing
Some Republican legislators wanted to consider a bill to put trained armed volunteers or school employees inside the state's public schools.
The Senate judiciary committee was scheduled to take up the legislation, but groups opposed to the bill flooded legislators with phone calls the last two days.
In Coral Springs, a neighbouring suburb of Parkland, Life Fellowship Church Pastor Harold Altamirano and about three dozen worshipers gathered Saturday to walk around the community and pray for healing.
"We just want to tell Parkland that you are not alone. We are hurting with you," Altamirano said. "Let's not allow fear to win. Love has to have the last say."
As families continue to bury the dead, authorities are questioning whether they could have prevented the attack.
Calls for FBI head's resignation
On Friday, the FBI said it received a tip last month that Cruz had a "desire to kill" and access to guns and could be plotting an attack, but agents failed to investigate. Florida's governor called for the FBI director to resign.
In a statement, the agency acknowledged that the tip should have been shared with the FBI's Miami office and investigated, but it was not. The startling admission came as the agency was already facing criticism for its treatment of a tip about a YouTube comment posted last year. The comment, "Im going to be a professional school shooter," was posted by a "Nikolas Cruz." The FBI investigated the remark but did not determine who made it.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the shooting was a "tragic consequence" of the FBI's missteps and ordered a review of the Justice Department's processes. He said it's now clear that the nation's premier law enforcement agency missed warning signs.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said his office had received more than 20 calls about Cruz in the past few years.
The Network for Public Education and the American Federation of Teachers have also called on students, teachers and administrators to organize sit-ins, walkouts and other acts of protest on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
The groups said the goal is to get lawmakers to enact gun control legislation.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the answer to school violence is to keep guns away from people who should not have them. She said she hopes the April 20 protest turns into a broader movement for change.
With files from The Associated Press, Reuters