One day after Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school safety bill, student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas vowed to continue pressuring lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws, staging a rally down the street from the school on Saturday afternoon.
A crowd of more than 100 students, parents and community members gathered at North Community Park in Coral Springs and listened as student survivors of last month’s deadly shooting at the Parkland school called for an all-out ban on assault weapons, more comprehensive background checks for gun purchases and additional funding for mental health care.
Organized by students Angelina Lazo and Sarah Cummings, the rally served in many ways as a prelude to a planned march on Washington, D.C., at the end of the month. At least 50 sister marches are also scheduled across the country and globally, according to student organizers with the #NeverAgain anti-gun violence group.
Lazo, an 18-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas, stood on the bed of a white pickup truck at the park and read aloud the names of the 14 students and three school personnel who were gunned down in the shooting.
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“We need change now. Not only for our community, but for our country,” she said. “How many more innocent lives have to be taken for our government to take action?”
Although Lazo admitted she was not well-versed in the guns and school safety bill passed by the state Legislature last week, she nevertheless said it did not go far enough.
The bill raised the minumum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, extended a three-day waiting period to purchase guns to include long rifles and created a “guardian” program that enables some teachers and other school employees to carry handguns. It also enacted a ban on bump stocks, devices that allow guns to mimic automatic fire.
Lazo stressed to those in attendance that change won’t come easily, and to remain focused on their goals.
“We must keep going — a week, a month, a year from now. We need to continue to fight for everyone’s safety,” she said, her voice strained. “They say we’re just kids. Not only are we just kids, but we are tomorrow’s future.”
With her eyes set on the nation’s capital, where she will be protesting along with her classmates on March 24, Lazo issued a warning to President Donald Trump about his re-election chances in 2020.
Staring into a TV camera, she addressed Trump directly, claiming to “see right through your lies and incompetence.”
“In three years from now, students who are now sophomores would then be eligible to vote,” Lazo said. “And all I can say is: You better start packing your bags now.”
Following the rally, Lazo and her classmates held hands as they walked to Douglas High to pay their respects.
Greg Pittman, an American History teacher at Douglas for the past decade, said that he was happy state lawmakers from both parties came together to pass legislation before their session ends, but that his students wouldn’t rest until AR-15-style weapons are outlawed and more safeguards are put in place.
Acknowledging that FBI statistics show handguns kill far more people every year than assault weapons, Pittman said banning long rifles won’t put an end to American mass shootings. He is in favor of hardening schools and adding more comprehensive background checks, among other policy changes.
“We are going to end up seeing, before it’s all over with, major legislation change in Washington,” Pittman said. “It is coming, if this movement is spreading the way I think it is.”