TALLAHASSEE, Fla. >> The student-driven movement to rewrite gun laws showed no sign of waning a week after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida school, with politicians yielding to pressure to respond.
The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said Thursday that as the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination approaches, she hopes we can “look toward solutions as these young people are forcing us to have the conversations, bipartisan conversations.”
Speaking at The King Center in Atlanta, King said tragedy “gives us an opportunity to lay aside for a moment our differences and really look at how we can come together as humanity and move forward with these injustices and these evils that continue to beset us.”
The survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School have vowed to continue their activism, including a “March for Our Lives” in Washington next month, which King says she’ll attend.
At a funeral for slain football coach Aaron Feis, retired school groundsmen Dave Tagliavia said he thinks the students mean what they say and won’t back down.
“I think if changes are going to be made, these kids are going to do it. They’ve got fire in their eyes,” he said.
A day after an emotional meeting with survivors and their families, President Donald Trump tweeted his strongest stance yet on gun control. He said he would endorse strengthening background checks, banning “bump stock” style devices and raising the minimum age to 21 for buying certain rifles.
At a conference of conservative activists Thursday near Washington, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would make school safety “our top national priority” after the shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida.
Calling school shootings “evil in our time,” Pence exhorted those in positions of authority “to find a way to come together with American solutions.”
It was a markedly different tone than that deployed on stage minutes earlier by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, who delivered an unbowed defense of gun ownership and lashed out at Democrats — saying they are using the tragedy for “political gain.”
In Parkland, hundreds gathered to remember Feis, a 37-year-old assistant football coach and security guard gunned down while helping students to safety during the mass shooting
Joe LaGuardia, who attended high school with Feis at Stoneman Douglas, described him as “one of the greatest people I have ever known.”
Students converged on Florida’s Capitol to take their concerns to state lawmakers Wednesday. Outside the building, many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said that in future elections they would oppose any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson gave Sen. Marco Rubio credit for being the only Republican to attend a televised town hall Wednesday night held in the aftermath of the school shooting and criticized Republican Gov. Rick Scott for not showing up.
“I commended (Rubio) for being there. He had the guts to be there when Governor Scott did not,” Nelson told a group of Democratic state senators.
Scott is likely to challenge Nelson as he seeks a fourth term in the Senate this November. Nelson questioned Scott’s commitment to make meaningful change after the shooting.
Republican legislative leaders in Florida say they will consider legislation that will likely call for raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and increasing funding for mental health programs and school resource officers, the police assigned to specific schools.
Lawmakers are also considering a program promoted by one Florida sheriff that calls for deputizing someone to carry a weapon on campus. Legislators may also enact a waiting period for rifle purchases.
The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the attack. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons.
“How is it possible that this boy that we all knew was clearly disturbed was able to get an assault rifle, military grade, and come to our school and try to kill us?” one 16-year-old student asked the president of the state Senate, Joe Negron.
Negron did not answer directly. “That’s an issue that we’re reviewing,” he said.
Stoneman Douglas’ school resource officer was carrying a handgun when the shooting happened last week, but did not discharge his firearm. It’s unclear what role he played in the shooting.
Spencer reported from Parkland, Florida. Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro and Curt Anderson in Miami, Kelli Kennedy in Coral Springs, Florida, Joe Reedy in Tallahassee and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.