'This is about guns': Florida student survived shooting same way as grandfather decades ago

When the shots rang out at her Florida high school, Carly Novell hid in a closet for safety — just like her grandfather did to escape a 1949 shooting rampage in New Jersey.

The Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School student recounted her harrowing two-hour ordeal in a tweet posted in the aftermath of a deadly massacre at the Parkland school that claimed the lives of 17 people.

Nearly 70 years ago, Novell’s grandfather, Charles Cohen, did the same, when Howard Unruh gunned down 13 people, including Cohen’s parents and grandmother during what was later called his Walk of Death through Camden.

So when conservative television commentator Tomi Lahren took to Twitter with calls to halt the debate over gun control in the wake of the shooting, it was doubly personal for Novell.

‘You weren’t there, you don’t know’

“You weren’t there. You don’t know how it felt” she said. “Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This is about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

But while Novell survived, 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff was not so lucky.

Her mother Lori Alhadeff’s raw grief was on full display on live television the evening after the shooting, when she called out U.S. President Donald Trump with demands for gun reform.

Grieving mother of Florida shooting victim makes emotional plea1:13

“You say, ‘What you can you do?’ You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands …This is not fair to our families, that our children go to school and have to get killed.”

Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. On Thursday, he reportedly confessed he was responsible for the deadly school shooting, telling officers he brought more loaded magazines to the school and kept them hidden in the backpack until he got on campus.

As students began to flee, he said, he discarded his AR-15 rifle and a vest he was wearing so he could blend in with the crowd. Police recovered the rifle and the vest.

Often easier to buy rifles than handguns

Trump has made arrangements to visit the reeling Parkland community. He said Friday morning that residents are “some of the bravest people on Earth — but whose lives have been totally shattered.”

Trump struck a solemn tone in a national address Thursday, describing a “scene of terrible violence, hatred and evil,” and promising to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” But on the of gun control, he remained silent. 

School shooting in Parkland, Florida

Students and others inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were brought outside the Parkland, Fla., school after gunfire rang out on Valentine’s Day. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It was just months after he turned 18 that Cruz went to a Florida gun store to buy a weapon. But there were limits on what he could purchase at his age.

Cruz wasn’t old enough to buy any of the handguns at the store. But there’s no such restriction for rifles, shotguns or the AR-15 used in the incident.

Federal law requires someone to be at least 21 to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer, but only 18 in most places to buy a long gun. In some states — mostly rural places with a strong tradition of hunting — you can buy a rifle at age 14 or 16.

That fact has revived the debate over age requirements for gun purchases in a country where a patchwork of laws and rural states steeped in hunting culture that often makes it easier for teens to buy rifles than it is handguns. 

‘Whatever it takes’

For the survivors who spoke to CBC’s Steven D’Souza, that’s not good enough.

Emma Gonzales was in the school’s auditorium when the bullets began flying in what would, within just six minutes, turn out to be one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. 

School shooting vigil fuelled by anger and grief11:04

“They say, ‘You don’t think about it until it happens’ — I was always thinking about it,” she said Friday. “And now that it’s happened, there’s nothing that could have possibly made me angrier and more ready to do something.

“We’re not going to just let the grief wash over us and then fade away. We’re going to do something about it,” Gonzales said. “If this has to become the poster child for fixing the gun problems in our community and nation, whatever it takes.”

‘Maybe that’s the turning point’

Leonor Munoz, who was holed up with Gonzales, is approaching the legal voting age, and says anyone against gun control won’t be getting her vote. 

“None of us will vote for anything that’s pro-guns, because there’s no way that guns would have helped us in that situation,” Munoz said.

“The kid had smoke bombs,” she said, in an allegation about Cruz.

Munoz also said arming teachers would have done nothing if they couldn’t distinguish individuals from each other. 

“More guns does not solve this problem, in the same way that firefighters don’t bring more fire to stop fires.”

cruz florida shooting guns

Nikolas Cruz, centre, appears in court via video with Melisa McNeill, his public defender, at a bond hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Cruz wasn’t old enough to buy a gun, but legally purchased owned a rifle allegedly used in the attack at a Parkland school. (Susan Stocker/Reuters)

On average, more than 13,000 people are killed each year in the United States by guns. Most of those incidents involve handguns, while a tiny fraction involve an AR-style firearm. Still, the AR plays an oversized role in many of the most high-profile shootings, including the nightclub shooting in Orlando, and the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history: by a gunman holed up in a nearby Las Vegas hotel that left 58 dead and hundreds injured.

Speaking outside Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School on Friday, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said he has been inspired by the students who have been demanding changes to make gun violence less likely.

“These kids are just terrific,” Nelson said. “The fact that they are speaking up as boldly as they are, maybe that’s the turning point. You haven’t heard students speak up one after another after another after witnessing such carnage and speaking out with such conviction.”

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