Tallahassee, FL — Just one week after surviving a massacre that killed 17 people, grieving students traveled 450 miles to confront lawmakers Wednesday while other students across the state of Florida staged walk-outs and marches in solidarity.
The students speaking to legislators want a ban on semi-automatic weapons and tougher background checks for would-be gun buyers.
“The legislation needs to change, because we’ve fallen victim to lazy legislation for far too long,” student Kai Koerber said.
Koerber is one of about 100 students from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School meeting with several lawmakers Wednesday.
As students rallied outside the capitol building, thousands of teens from across the state walked out in support of Stoneman Douglas students.
Some walked 10 miles, arm-in-arm, to get to Stoneman Douglas, CNN affiliate WPLG reported.
“We’re exhausted, but couldn’t be prouder to be here,” a senior from Palm Beach County said.
‘We can come here and make a difference’
Stoneman Douglas sophomore Daniel Bishop said he huddled in a corner for 2 1/2 hours as bullets flew in his school last week. He said he wants legislators to listen to his experience.
“Fortunately they weren’t involved in a school shooting, but I was,” Bishop said as he marched to the Florida capitol building Wednesday morning.
“People I know died. My friends died. … If our government was doing something correctly, then we wouldn’t be here today. And I truly believe that we can come here and make a difference if we all just work together to pass bipartisan legislation.”
Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 style rifle to carry out the attack. He’s in custody and faces 17 counts of premeditated murder.
But the grief-stricken teens suffered a blow Tuesday, when state lawmakers voted 71-36 against a measure to consider a ban on semi-automatic weapons. Legislators did, however, declare pornography to be a public health risk.
“It was just so heartbreaking to see how many (voters’) names were up there, especially after it was my school,” said Sheryl Acquaroli, 16, a junior at Stoneman Douglas.
“It seemed almost heartless how they immediately pushed the button to say no.”
Almost all 71 lawmakers who voted against considering an assault rifle ban have an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.
Senior Chris Grady, 19, gave the politicians an ultimatum:
“If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and you’re against saving the lives of innocent children. And we are going to be voting you out,” he said.
Pro-gun student changes mindset
Kyle Kashuv, 16, a Stoneman Douglas student, identifies as a Republican and a conservative. He said he has always been pro-guns, but looks at things differently since the shooting.
“We have such a limited government that should not be totally reliant on … the police. We should be able to defend ourselves as citizens,” he said. “I still totally believe that but I think that there should be a limit to who could acquire such weaponry.”
He said some people should not have access to guns.
“If you’re not of the right mindset, you’re not mentally stable, then you should not be able to acquire that,” he said.
Governor working on proposal
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a roundtable on school safety Tuesday, and planned to have a proposal by Friday.
“I am bringing local and state leaders together to find solutions on how to prevent violence in our schools and keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals,” he said.
“This is an urgent matter that we must address quickly.”
‘When we’re not here, we’re at a funeral’
While the survivors are fighting for new legislation hundreds of miles from home, their slain friends and teachers aren’t far from their thoughts.
“When we’re not here, we’re at a funeral,” government teacher Jeff Foster said.
Chris Hixon, an athletic director who also served as the school’s wrestling coach, will be laid to rest Wednesday.
And a visitation will take place Wednesday evening for Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach who died when he threw himself in front of students to shield them from bullets.