It took three buses to carry 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to Tallahassee on February 20. Following the lead of student organizer Jaclyn Corin and in coordination with two state senators, Lauren Book and Gary Farmer, the students banded together and arrived to meet with lawmakers to discuss gun laws.
On Twitter, Corin garnered the support of thousands more to their cause to end mass shootings, which Douglas students are calling #NeverAgain.
The students went to the Florida state capitol to do more than just rally, although that happened, too. They had clear, established priorities. Douglas High senior Chris Grady, 19, told the Sun Sentinel that the students wanted to discuss two main points this week: setting stricter regulations on semiautomatic weapons and establishing more extensive background checks.
Before the students arrived in Tallahassee, lawmakers had already ensured that first talking point had been silenced. In a vote of 36-71, lawmakers in the Republican-led Florida State House voted down HB 219, a bill that would have banned semiautomatic guns and large-capacity magazines. Before the vote, CNN reports that the House said a prayer for the victims of the shooting in Parkland.
Still, the students, mourning and recovering, persist. Since the vote, they’ve responded to lawmakers online and have a full schedule for February 21 that includes a meeting with top state delegates, including Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Florida Senate President Joe Negron. Florida Governor Rick Scott is not expected to attend, but Corin stated on Twitter that she had already arranged a separate meeting.
On Wednesday, the students will also attend a Senate session, where more gun legislation will be considered. One bill on the agenda, CS/SB 1048, would allow concealed carry in churches and other religious institutions at the institutions’ discretion. The other, CS/HB 55, allows processing fees for background checks to be paid for online. Both bills seek to expand gun rights, indicating less of a response to the recent shooting and more of a sense of business as usual. Students expressed frustration in interviews and on Twitter.
There is one senator who sees the need for more urgency in passing gun reforms. Democratic senator Linda Stewart confirmed in a statement that she has filed two amendments to bills scheduled for a floor vote on February 21, SB1048 and HB 55. Her amendments would add language to these bills that would ban the sale of large-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons to civilians.
“These bills quintessentially reflect how out-of-touch our state legislature has become,” Senator Stewart said in her statement. “My amendments are simple: Ban high-capacity magazines and weapons of mass murder. If you stand for life and family values, how can you sit idly as children are being slaughtered and lives are being forever shattered? How can we, as lawmakers charged with the safety and well-being of our state’s citizens, continue to do nothing?”
Also ahead for the students on Wednesday is a live town hall on CNN that airs at 9 p.m. EST. Although President Donald Trump and Governor Rick Scott both declined to attend, the town hall will still take place and students will be discussing gun control with Florida Representative Ted Deutch (D) and Senators Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D). On Twitter, the discussion has, of course, already started, with the supportive tone of the town hall attendee tweets predictably divided by party line.
The students weighed in, too, continuing to expertly wield social media to stop disinformation, including a conspiracy latched onto by at least one aide to a lawmaker in the state that the students are paid actors. That aide was fired yesterday, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
As the students in Tallahassee wound down from the bus ride, reacted to the House vote online and prepared for the long day ahead, at home, students from neighboring West Boca High School marched 10 miles to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As they marched, the students in South Florida chanted. What they chose to chant echoed the core of Corin’s initial tweet that originally called the Tallahassee students to action. As hundreds walked for miles, in unison they repeated, “We want change, we want change.”