One-hundred students woke up yesterday morning, not to go to class, but to march to Florida’s capital and demand lawmakers pass legislation to tighten gun control. Not more than 10 hours later, many of the same students returned to the BB&T Center in Sunrise armed with searing questions for their legislatures. Primary among them: What are they going to do about gun control?
More than 7,000 attended the event – which was advertised as closed to the general public despite tickets being available for free on ticketmaster.com – booing, waving aroundphotos of the deceased from their cell phones or shouting out whenever a legislator failed to answer a question. Surrounded by a sea of maroon – Stoneman Douglas’ school color – and signs condemning the NRA, those asking and responding to questions on stage contended with expressing genuine emotion without inciting harsh audience reaction sure to interrupt the flow of discussion.
From the stands, culinary arts teacher Mrs. Ashley Kurth, a registered Republican who also voted for Trump, voiced her anxiety to Senator Marco Rubio about teachers being armed in the classroom. During the massacre she shielded more than 60 students in her classroom. Stoneman Douglas senior Cameron Kasky, founder of the #NEVERAGAIN movement, pressed Rubio to stop taking contributions from the National Rifle Association (he won’t). Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie is among the dead, was the first and most blunt to confront the Florida Senator.
“Here’s the problem,” Guttenberg said. “Your comments this week, and those of our President, have been pathetically weak.”
Parkland mayor Christine Hunschofsky, Broward County Public School Superintendent Robert Runcie and MSD Principal Ty Thompson opened the floor with encouraging sentiments, noting students’ intelligence, skillful articulation and unwavering determination to make change.
Later students confronted both Florida senators, Representative Ted Deutch, Sheriff Scott Israel and NRA Spokeswoman Dana Loesch.
Florida Governor Rick Scott and President Donald Trump declined invitations to the night’s event.
Emma González, whose 11-minute speech delivered at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale Feb. 18 earned her instant recognition, questioned Loesch’s position on banning assault weapons and bump stocks. In regards to bump stocks, Loesch stated the NRA is “waiting on the Justice Department’s ruling.” Despite claiming to have the students’ best interests in mind, Loesch refused to loosen her grip on the NRA’s agenda, blaming mental health, rather than ease of acquiring weapons, as the primary cause of gun violence. Recent studies have demonstrated the contrary.
“You’re not standing up for them until you say ‘I want less weapons,’” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said to her.
A recent poll concluded that 97 percent of Americans support universal background checks for all gun purchases and transfers. Despite this, private sellers are not required by federal or Florida law to perform background checks on buyers. Is our democracy broken? According to Deutch, “A little bit. A little bit it is.” But with each protest, each walkout, each tweet and each refusal to remain quiet, today’s students are refusing to let Stoneman Douglas become just another statistic.
In a closing song written and performed by survivors of the shooting, the world was reminded that thoughts and prayers are not enough.
The students of Stoneman Douglas, the country, demand action.