Florida students turn to activism in wake of shooting

Thousands gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturday to mourn the victims of a deadly school shooting and demand action from politicians amid a renewed debate over the nation's gun laws.

The rally was the culmination of three days of grief and anger that followed the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, roughly 25 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, which left 17 people dead and 14 others injured. 

But amid speeches from elected officials and school administrators, it was students — the survivors of the shooting — who led calls to restrict access to firearms. 

The aftermath of mass shootings in America have become familiar. Democrats call for gun control, hashtags in solidarity with survivors trend on social media and many call for thoughts and prayers.

But following this week's shooting in Parkland, the students who survived are not content with thoughts and prayers.

"The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call 'B.S.,' " Emma Gonzalez, a student at the school, said. "We are prepared to call 'B.S.' "

Gonzalez delivered an emotional plea for new gun restrictions in a speech on Saturday, blasting President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and lawmakers for what she called their self-serving and ultimately hollow responses to the shooting.

Many students held signs demanding new action on gun control. "My friend died for what?" read one sign. "Stop gun violence now," read another. 

The suspected shooter was identified Wednesday as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the high school who was expelled for disciplinary reasons. Cruz later confessed to carrying out the attack. He was charged Thursday with 17 counts of premeditated murder. 

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Cruz allegedly carried out the shooting with an AR-15, an assault-style weapon that he purchased legally roughly a year earlier from a dealer in nearby Coral Springs, Fla. 

The chorus of students calling for policymakers to address gun violence crescendoed throughout Thursday and Friday. 

In a Thursday morning interview with CNN, Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg pleaded directly to lawmakers, calling the rash of mass shootings in American schools "unacceptable."

"You need to take some action and play a role," Hogg said. "Work together, come over your politics and get something done."

At a Thursday night vigil for the victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, chants of "no more guns" broke out among the crowd.

On Friday, Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old junior at the high school, penned an op-ed for CNN, in which he declared that politicians had "abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools." 

“But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account," he wrote. "This time we are going to pressure them to take action."

And as Trump prepared to travel on Florida on Friday to meet with first responders and families of victims, dozens of students gathered at a nearby high school to protest the president's gun policies and the influence of the NRA. 

The protests show no signs of fading. 

The organizers behind the Women's March have called for a national school walkout next month to protest what they say is Congress's tacit response to mass shootings. The walkout on March 14 is set to last 17 minutes, and will seek to pressure lawmakers "to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods," the group said on its website.

A separate walkout is also being organized to take place on April 20.

CNN is also set to hold a televised town hall event on Wednesday with Stoneman Douglas students and parents. The network has invited a number of policymakers to attend the discussion, including President Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchHouse Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death House conservatives call for ethics probe into Joaquin Castro tweet Democratic leaders seek to have it both ways on impeachment MORE (D-Fla.) and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (R-Fla.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Fla.).

Democrats have overwhelmingly responded to the shooting with calls for new gun control legislation. 

"Congress has a moral responsibility to take common sense action to prevent the daily tragedy of gun violence in communities across America," House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObjections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated Latest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement issued shortly after the attack on Wednesday. "Enough is enough."

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHistory in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week Democrat grills DHS chief over viral image of drowned migrant and child Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (D-Va.) joined protesters outside NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va., on Friday, where he blamed the organization's influence for the rash of mass shootings. 

"Children are dead because of you," he said. 

Democrats have frequently called for gun control laws in response to mass shootings, but it remains to be seen whether enough support can be rallied to enact new legislation — especially in a Republican-controlled Congress.

In early October, nearly 60 people died in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on a nearby country music festival from his hotel room.

In the aftermath, lawmakers discussed banning bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to imitate an automatic weapon. After the attack, support for gun control laws also reached an all-time high, with an October Quinnipiac University poll showing 60 percent of Americans in favor of tightening gun laws.

Republicans, however, have so far shown little appetite for new gun restrictions. In a radio interview on Thursday, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' MORE (R-Wis.) warned against jumping to conclusions after the shooting, and said that it was not the time to talk about gun control. 

"There’s more questions than answers at this stage," Ryan told Indiana radio host Tony Katz. "I don’t think that means you then roll the conversation into taking away citizens’ rights — taking away a law-abiding citizens' rights."

Rubio also warned against jumping to conclusions, saying Wednesday that it was "important to know" the facts of the shooting before delving into the issue of gun-control legislation. 

"I think it's important to know all of that before you jump to conclusions that there was some law that we could have passed that would have prevented it," he said in an interview on Fox News. "And there may be, but shouldn't we at least know the facts?"

Many Republicans have also sought to turn attention to mental illness following the shooting. A day after the attack, Trump himself suggested that Cruz was "mentally disturbed," and that it is up to classmates and community members to flag concerns to law enforcement.

Attention has also turned to concerns about how the shooting was able to take place, after the FBI acknowledged on Friday that it failed to investigate a tip it received in January warning of Cruz's erratic behavior, gun ownership and desire to kill. 

The FBI conceded that the tip from a person close to Cruz "should have been assessed as a potential threat to life." Instead, the bureau failed to investigate the claim and never passed the information on to its Miami field office.

That revelation prompted Scott, the Florida governor, to call for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign. At the same time, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda Lewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE said he would order a review of the bureau's protocols for investigating such tips. 

Reps. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Cummings announces expansion of Oversight panel's White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Pelosi says it's up to GOP to address sexual assault allegation against Trump MORE (R-S.C.) and Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute MORE (R-Va.), who chair the House Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary committees, respectively, sent a letter to Wray on Friday requesting information on the FBI's failure to follow up on the tip. 

Still, Stoneman Douglas students have vowed to keep pressure on lawmakers. 

"We are going to change the law," Gonzalez, the Stoneman Douglas student, said Saturday. "That's going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook, and it's all going to be due to the tireless efforts of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and, most importantly, the students."

- This story was updated to take into account multiple walkouts being organized.