Student survivors of the deadly Florida school shooting sought to become the public face of a revived gun control movement, putting them on a potential collision course with U.S. President Donald Trump, whose election was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association and who ran on a platform opposing gun control.
Trump spent the weekend at his estate in South Florida, only an hour’s drive from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman fatally shot 17 people.
His only mentions of the massacre came in tweets Saturday contending that the FBI was too focused on the Russia investigation to respond to warnings about the suspect and mocking Democrats for failing to pass gun control.
“You’re the president. You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us,” said David Hogg, a 17-year-old student at the high school, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“How dare you?” he added.
After more than a day of criticism from the students, the White House said the president would hold a “listening session” with unspecified students Wednesday and meet Thursday with state and local security officials.
Meanwhile, Florida politicians scrambled to produce legislation in response to the attack.
In a TV interview, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio embraced a Democratic bill in the Florida legislature to allow courts to temporarily prevent people from having guns if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others.
Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, attended a prayer vigil at the First Church Coral Springs, blocks from the shooting site. He is expected to announce a legislative package with Republican lawmakers this week.
Student survivors of Florida school shooting plead for change at gun control rally0:52
In a statement on Monday, Scott called on the FBI to “immediately release all details surrounding the Bureau’s failure to act on a tip it received” on the suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, who is charged with 17 counts of murder.
“Last week, I called on [FBI director Chris] Wray to resign, and the FBI should release all records involving this terrible error,” Scott said.
“People in Washington tend to want to investigate, hold hearings and put off what truly needs to be done. Instead, someone needs to be held accountable.”
Emma Gonzalez, another student survivor, gave an impassioned speech at a weekend rally. On Sunday, she cited Trump, Rubio and Scott by name in a warning to politicians who are backed by the NRA.
Emma Gonzalez, another student survivor, gave an impassioned speech at a weekend rally. On Sunday, she cited U.S. President Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio and Florida Gov. Rick Scott by name in a warning to politicians backed by the NRA. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
“Now is the time to get on the right side of this, because this is not something that we are going to let sweep under the carpet,” she said on Meet the Press.
Seeking to increase pressure for gun control, the students plan to visit the state capitol in Tallahassee this week to demand immediate action. They are also calling for anti-gun violence demonstrations in Washington and other cities March 24.
Organizers behind the anti-Trump Women’s March called for a 17-minute nationwide walkout by teachers and students on March 14.
Chris Grady, a 19-year-old senior at the Florida school, was one of several students at Sunday’s rally near the campus.
“The kids in Newtown were too young to understand what happened and were too young to have their own voice,” Grady said, referring to the 20 first-graders killed in the 2012 Connecticut school shooting. “We want to be the voice for those kids and thousands of others.”
Not every student at the Florida school was calling for more gun control. James Ciaramello, a freshman in the school’s JROTC program, was heartbroken by the massacre but skeptical that firearms regulations could have prevented it.
A makeshift memorial is seen outside the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Monday. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)
“He’s just messed up,” Ciaramello said of the 19-year-old Cruz, another JROTC member. “I mean, tighter gun control, it’s not going to help. There’s always a way around it.”
School and government records obtained Sunday show Cruz was diagnosed as developmentally delayed at age three and had disciplinary issues dating to middle school. In February 2014, while in Grade 8, he was transferred to a special school for children with emotional and behavioural issues. He stayed there until Grade 10, when he was transferred to Stoneman Douglas. Cruz was expelled from the high school last year.
Cruz to plead guilty if death penalty off the table
Cruz appeared in court Monday for a procedural hearing about how legal paperwork would be handled in the case.
He said nothing as he made his first in-person appearance in Broward County Circuit Court. A previous appearance had been by a video connection from jail.
Cruz, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, kept his head down and did not appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defence team.
Nikolas Cruz appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
The hearing concerned rules that will govern how documents are sealed. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she was in favour of openness whenever possible.
Lawyers for Cruz have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.
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