Florida students tell politicians they will 'vote them out' if they don't act on gun control

'The more they don’t act, the more they don’t deserve to be in office'

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 21 February 2018 20:02 GMT
Florida shooting survivor Ryan Deitsch: 'The more they don't act the more they don't deserve to stay in office'

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Louise Thomas

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Thousands of students in Florida have gathered in the state capital Tallahassee and issued a blunt and impassioned warning to politicians: take action against guns or we will vote you out.

A week after 17 students and teachers were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, students across the state held protests and boycotted classes, as their classmates held the ear of the president in a show of young people’s increasing political muscle in the wake of the latest tragedy.

“The more they don’t act, the more they don’t deserve to be in office,” said Ryan Deitsch, one of the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who travelled to Tallahassee. “I’m 18 myself now, I can vote, and I know who I’m not voting for.”

The young people said that for all the national support they had received from the public, they had been unimpressed by what they had heard from elected officials.

Speaking at a rally in front of the legislative capitol building, another student, Florence Yared, issued a similar warning. “We are too young to vote, but soon we will be able to vote, and we will vote you out.”

Sofie Whitney, who had also boarded the bus from Parkland to Tallahassee to honour the memory of the colleagues and teachers who were killed and to press for action, said “some people don’t think we’re serious because we’re children”.

“But did you hear my friends speak,” she said. “How many more people have to die before something changes.”

The passion and defiance expressed by the students in the seven days since a Parkland was to the long list of American communities that will for years be known as the site of a mass shooting, has brought new and unexpected support to those who have long been campaigning for a change to America’s gun laws. The young people have insisted that rote offerings of “prayers and thoughts” from politicians in the aftermath of such incidents are no longer acceptable.

Survivor of Florida school shooting speaks at State Capitol rally

Some of the Florida students met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday Trump, at what the White House was calling a “listening session”. Mr Trump said at the meeting that he wanted to hear suggestions for addressing gun violence in schools, saying, “After I listen we’re going to get things done.”

“We’re going to be very strong on background checks,” Mr Trump added, as some of those present in the White House took turns to talk about their experiences – including teenagers present during the latest shooting.

Julia Cordover, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke directly to President Trump: “I am confident you’ll do the the right thing.”

“I feel like there is a lot to do,” she said.

Julia said her goal is that “no child, no person in this world will ever have to go through something so more risk and tragic.”

Such strength of feeling could be seen in various parts of the country. Also in Washington, Maryland high school students who had rallied at the US Capitol in support of stronger gun control later marched on the White House, while students in Illinois and Minnesota also walked out of their classrooms over the issue of gun control. Colorado Republican Representative Mike Coffman

Earlier this week, Mr Trump announced he was ordering the Department of Justice to change regulations to ban the use of so-called bump stocks – the controversial accessory that enables a rifle to be fired as if it is a fully automatic weapons.

Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 58 people when he opened fire on concert goers in Las Vegas, is believed to have used such a device.

“We must do more to protect our children,” said Mr Trump.

But Mr Trump’s action so far has involved the expenditure of little political capital; even the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbying organisation had initially supported regulation of bump stocks in the aftermath of the bloodshed on the Las Vegas Strip.

The President has also said he supported better background checks and called for more attention to be paid to the issue of mental health. Yet some experts believe if Mr Trump were go much further on changing gun laws, for example by pushing for a ban on assault-style weapons, he would risk losing support from his political base to whom he presented himself as a defender of Second Amendment gun rights during the presidential election campaign.

Those changes are exactly the ones being demanded by the young people in Florida. One young woman claimed the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the weapon which police have alleged was used last week by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz who has been charged over the shooting, can fire up to 600 rounds a minute.

“It does not take 600 rounds to stop an intruder in your home,” she said. “It does not take 600 rounds to shoot a deer.”

The protest in Tallahassee attracted up to 3,000 people, according to reports, and students boycotted classes across the state. In Broward County, many of those who skipped class made their way to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus. They are also planning to protest next month in Washington DC.

Asked at a press briefing on Tuesday if Mr Trump was open to reinstating a ban on assault-type weapons, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House officials “haven’t closed the door on any front”. She also said that the idea of raising the age limit to buy an AR-15 was “on the table for us to discuss”.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and leading advocate for tighter gun controls, said Mr Trump’s directive suggested the President was aware of fresh energy on the issue and called it a sign that “for the first time politicians are scared of the political consequences of inaction on guns”.

“Americans of every age and background are calling ‘BS’ on the lack of action from Congress and the President. Americans aren’t more dangerous or more criminally-inclined than people in other nations, but we have the highest rate of gun deaths in the developed world,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

“It is no secret which members of Congress pander to the gun lobby. With all 435 seats in the House and 34 seats in the Senate up for re-election in November, it is time for them to act. If not, we’ll vote them out.”

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