USA: High school students protest school shootings, demand stricter controls on guns
In the USA a student movement is gaining strength and demanding stricter gun controls after the recent massacre at a school in Florida. Yesterday's event by students throughout Florida coincided with a meeting between US President Trump at the White House and targeted the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republican Party members refusing change on the issue.
At the town hall meeting in Florida, which was broadcast by CNN, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, spokesperson for the NRA, came under a barrage of criticism. The students are demanding a ban on the semi-automatic rifle shooters have frequently used for school shootings, which both the NRA and Rubio rejected, sparking anger from those present.
The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which is the "civilian" version of the automatic military weapons M4 and M16, was used by the 19-year-old gunman last week at the school in Parkland, Florida to kill 17 people. "My daughter, who was fleeing down the hall, was shot in the back with an assault rifle," said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old did not survive the attack.
"It's easy to get one. It's a weapon of war," he said.
Guttenberg earned loud support from the audience, but Rubio, who rejected a ban on assault weapons, was met with boos, whistles and other demonstrations of loud disagreement, and his rejection of calls for his political campaigns to refuse donations from the NRA also met with disfavor. According to The New York Times, Loesch repeatedly deflected questions about limiting access to weapons and emphasized that for safety in schools it is crucial not to allow persons with criminal records or mental illness to access firearms.
"That crazy monster, in my opinion, should never have gotten access to firearms," she said about Nikolas Cruz, who attacked the Parkland school. "None of us wants people who are unbalanced, who pose a danger to others and themselves, to ever get their hands on firearms."
The NRA spokesperson sparked a critical reaction from the audience when she resolutely refused to back away from her rejection of limitations on the accessibility of weapons, including rejecting the idea of increasing the federal age limit on the purchase of long guns, i.e., rifles or shotguns, from 18 to 21. According to Loesch, people old enough for military service should have the right to acquire a weapon.
The federal age limit of 18 for buying rifles is perceived as the minimum standard, but some states have significantly more relaxed restrictions allowing children as young as 14 to legally buy a rifle with the consent of their parents. On the other hand, the federal age limit for acquiring pistols or revolvers is 21.
Sheriff Scott Israel, whose district includes Parkland, also made an appearance at the public forum. He called on the students to insist the weapons laws be changed.
"America is watching you, there will be change," the sheriff said, adding that such massacres must not be allowed to be repeated. He also said if legislators refuse to tighten controls, they should be held accountable.
Trump carried notes with empathetic comments on them
Yesterday's White House meeting between the US President and the students, who included survivors of the massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida, was full of emotional declarations and bitterness over political unwillingness to limit access to weapons. The President is also facing criticism because photographers captured a list of remarks for him to make during the discussion spelling out several empathetic comments, the aim of which was apparently to emphasize his compassion for the victims.
On the five-point list the President made a note, among other things, to ask what those present wanted him to know most about the incident and to ask what it would be possible for him to do so they would feel better - the statement "I hear you" was number five on the list. During the meeting the President also declared that an armed teacher could potentially have halted the shooting spree.
"If there had been a teacher there who knew how to use firearms, they could have easily ended the attack fast," he said. At the same time he admitted that a plan currently supported by the NRA is a controversial one, as it would mean an end to weapons-free zones such as those that apply at schools now.
After saying that, however, the President speculated that gun-free zones attract attackers. Mark Barden, whose son died in 2012 during a massacre at a school in Connecticut, objected during the debate to the idea of arming teachers.
"Teachers already have more than enough responsibilities now," he said, adding that his wife Jackie, who happens to be a teacher, would not want work under those conditions. "Nobody wants a shootout in a school."
The US media also recalled a tweet by Trump from May 2016 when he was running for President on the issue of arming school staff, including teachers. As a candidate he criticized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for alleging that he wanted to give schools weapons.
"That's not true!" Trump tweeted at the time. During yesterday's White House meeting tears ran down the faces of many who were present when Andrew Pollack spoke about his 18-year-old daughter Meadow, who was shot dead by the attacker at the Florida school last week.
"We, as a country, have let our children down," Pollack said, adding that these problems should have been solved immediately after the first such massacre. "I have had enough of this, for my daughter's sake, and I will never see her again."
Students take to the streets
Thousands of students also traveled to the seat of the Florida legislative assembly yesterday to convince politicians there to adopt stricter rules for possessing assault weapons. Those there included survivors of the shooting at the high school in Parkland.
The students were seeking, among other matters, an increase to the age limit for buying weapons. The legislators promised to consider raising it from 18 to 21.
"Nikolas Cruz had an opportunity to buy an assault weapon before he was legally able to buy beer," said Lorenzo Prado, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting. "The laws of this country have failed," he told Reuters.
Just like thousands of other students, Prado traveled to the Florida legislature to convince politicians of the necessity of changing the situation. Those attending the event wore t-shirts expressing their solidarity with the attack victims.
"Don't kill our children, kill the NRA," read one of many signs criticising the powerful gun owners' lobby, which has long blocked efforts to tighten controls on arms sales. The Florida legislature, governed by Republicans, has long been inclined toward loose rules on weapons sales.
Florida Senate chair Joe Negron promised students yesterday that legislators "will consider" a proposal to increase the age limit for weapons sales to 21, but refused to say whether he himself or his fellow Republicans would support it. Democratic Party members support the measure and earned applause from the students present during debate on the floor of the legislature.
Marches planned across the USA and in other parts of the world
Students, teachers, parents and other interested parties are organizing more marches to take place in March. Young people want to take the situation into their own hands and are planning a march entitled "March for Our Lives" in Washington, DC.
In addition to the main march in the nation's capital, other marches are beginning to be planned in other American cities. Organizers are also calling on people to hold marches worldwide.
For the time being marches are planned, for example, in Birmingham, Boise, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, Springfield, West Palm Beach and in Liverpool, England. "The aim and purpose of March for Our Lives is for a comprehensive, effective bill to be immediately submitted to Congress proposing gun control measures," organizers say.
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