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Florida school shooting survivors flood state capitol to demand action on guns

Students rally on steps of Florida capitol for stricter gun laws
WATCH ABOVE: Students rally on steps of Florida capitol for stricter gun laws

Survivors of the Florida school shooting descended on the state’s Capitol on Wednesday with one overarching message: It’s time for action.

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The students entered a gun-friendly political climate in Tallahassee, where lawmakers have rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999.

The students received attention and a warm reception, but politicians did not offer specific answers. The students’ biggest wish – banning assault-type weapons such as the AR-15, the weapon used by suspect Nikolas Cruz – was taken off the table the previous day in the House.

“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 Senate president.

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The teens split into several groups to talk with lawmakers and other state leaders about gun control, the legislative process, and mental health issues. Some tearfully asked why civilians should be allowed to have weapons such as the one fired in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one week ago.

Student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where moe than a dozen students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday, walk past the house legislative committee rom, to talk to legislators at the state Capitol, regarding gun control legislation, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.
Student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where moe than a dozen students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday, walk past the house legislative committee rom, to talk to legislators at the state Capitol, regarding gun control legislation, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Lobbyists and attorneys listen as student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where more than a dozen students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday, interrupt a house legislative committee hearing, to challenge lawmakers on gun control reform, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.
Lobbyists and attorneys listen as student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where more than a dozen students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday, interrupt a house legislative committee hearing, to challenge lawmakers on gun control reform, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Julia Salomone, 18, left, and her sister Lindsey Salomone, 15, student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hug as they march to the state capitol to challenge lawmakers on gun control reform, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.    The students split into several groups to talk with lawmakers and other state leaders about gun control, the legislative process, and mental health issues.
Julia Salomone, 18, left, and her sister Lindsey Salomone, 15, student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hug as they march to the state capitol to challenge lawmakers on gun control reform, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. The students split into several groups to talk with lawmakers and other state leaders about gun control, the legislative process, and mental health issues. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Students gather on the steps of the old Florida Capitol protesting gun violence in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.   Students at schools across Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida planned short walkouts Wednesday, the one week anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students gather on the steps of the old Florida Capitol protesting gun violence in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Students at schools across Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida planned short walkouts Wednesday, the one week anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
Hundreds of protesters gather at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018 to push for legislation regulating assault-style weapons and guns in general, after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida.
Hundreds of protesters gather at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018 to push for legislation regulating assault-style weapons and guns in general, after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida. EPA/COLIN ABBEY
Hundreds of protesters gather at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018 to push for legislation regulating assault-style weapons and guns in general, after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida.
Hundreds of protesters gather at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018 to push for legislation regulating assault-style weapons and guns in general, after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida. EPA/COLIN ABBEY
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Therese Gachnauer, center, a 18 year old senior from Chiles High School and Kwane Gatlin, right, a 19 year old senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, join fellow students protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.    Students at schools across Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida planned short walkouts Wednesday, the one week anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Therese Gachnauer, center, a 18 year old senior from Chiles High School and Kwane Gatlin, right, a 19 year old senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, join fellow students protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Students at schools across Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida planned short walkouts Wednesday, the one week anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
Hundreds of protesters gather at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018 to push for legislation regulating assault-style weapons and guns in general, after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida.
Hundreds of protesters gather at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018 to push for legislation regulating assault-style weapons and guns in general, after seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida. EPA/COLIN ABBEY

When Florida’s Senate President Joe Negron heard the question, he did not answer directly: “That’s an issue that we’re reviewing.” When another lawmaker said he supported raising the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 from 18, the students broke into applause.

The Florida Senate opened its session by showing pictures of all 17 victims in the attack.

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“There are some really harrowing tales here,” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Book of Broward County, who helped organize busloads of students who arrived at the Capitol late Tuesday. She stayed overnight with the students in Tallahassee’s Civic Center and said they stayed up until 5 a.m., researching, writing and preparing to talk with politicians.

“It has been a very, very difficult, tough night. It’s in those quiet moments that the reality of this stuff, without all the noise sets in. In any given moment, there’s tears. It’s raw and it’s there.”

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About 100 students from the high school made the 640-kilometre trip on three buses. They told the 500 students and parents waiting for them that they were fighting to protect all students.

WATCH: Florida school shooting survivors reacted Tuesday with tears and silence as lawmakers voted against stricter gun laws
Florida school shooting survivors react as state votes down motion on assault weapon ban
Florida school shooting survivors react as state votes down motion on assault weapon ban

“We’re what’s making the change. We’re going to talk to these politicians. … We’re going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can’t happen anymore,” said Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior.

Despite their determination, the students and their supporters are not likely to get what they really want: a ban on AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles. Republican lawmakers are talking more seriously about some restrictions, but not a total ban.

A woman holds a sign at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018. Seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida. Students, parents and others are calling for legislative changes to gun access.
A woman holds a sign at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, 21 February 2018. Seventeen people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 14 February 2018, in Parkland, Florida. Students, parents and others are calling for legislative changes to gun access. EPA/COLIN ABBEY

Instead, they are discussing treating assault-style rifles more like handguns. That could mean raising the minimum age to purchase the weapon to 21, creating a waiting period and making it more difficult for people who exhibit signs of mental illness to buy weapons even without a diagnosis.

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Democrats attempted to get a bill to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines heard on the House floor on Tuesday. Republicans, who dominate the chamber, dismissed it.

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Scott organized three committees to look at school safety, mental health and gun safety issues. The committees met Tuesday and vowed to make changes. While Scott told reporters several times that “everything is on the table,” he did not answer whether his proposal would include any bans on any type of weapons.

Instead, Scott said he is interested in making it harder for people who are temporarily committed to obtain a gun. He also pledged to increase spending on school safety programs and on mental health treatment.

WATCH: Florida school shooting survivors are angry, and they want you to know it

Florida school shooting survivors are angry, and they want you to know it
Florida school shooting survivors are angry, and they want you to know it

 

Authorities said Cruz, 19, had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion. Police were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. His lawyers said there were many warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent. Yet he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.

Diego Pfeiffer, a senior at the high school, was realistic about achieving changes in the law before the Legislature goes home March 9, but he said anything is a good first step.

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“The best-case scenario is we move a step forward and that’s all we’re asking here. We’re asking to help save student lives,” he said. “Whether it’s funding or mental health or gun safety or any of that sort of stuff – I am pro any of that.”

— Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida. Associated Press writers Gary Fineout in Tallahassee and Sadie Gurman in Washington contributed to this report.