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 TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased 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 DeutchEthics watchdog finds 'substantial' evidence Rep. Malinowski failed to disclose stocks Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel advises Moderna booster shot for high-risk people Congress comes to the aid of Libyan people, passing bill ordering probe into war crimes and torture MORE (D-Fla.) and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP campaign arm outraises Democratic counterpart in September House passes bills to secure telecommunications infrastructure Senators call for answers from US firm over reported use of forced Uyghur labor in China MORE (R-Fla.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy FAA unveils new system to reduce planes' times on taxiway 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 PelosiDemocrats scramble to reach deal on taxes On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement issued shortly after the attack on Wednesday. "Enough is enough."

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBiden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Trump company in late-stage talks to sell DC hotel: report Trump Hotel lost more than M during presidency, say documents 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 RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge 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 SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE said he would order a review of the bureau's protocols for investigating such tips. 

Reps. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) and Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line 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.