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 TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser 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 panels set up to probe indicted GOP Reps. Collins, Hunter Ivanka Trump on mass shooting: 'Our hearts are with Jacksonville' Top Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign MORE (D-Fla.) and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioNikki Haley: New York Times ‘knew the facts’ about curtains and still released story March For Our Lives founder leaves group, says he regrets trying to 'embarrass' Rubio Rubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' MORE (R-Fla.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNelson campaign to donate K from Al Franken group to charity Political shenanigans mask true problems in Puerto Rico The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement issued shortly after the attack on Wednesday. "Enough is enough."

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDem on Puerto Rico and Trump: ‘God only knows’ what he'd consider a failure Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence 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 RyanDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage How does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act 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 distances himself from Rosenstein by saying Sessions hired him Gowdy: Declassified documents unlikely to change anyone's mind on Russia investigation Pompeo on Rosenstein bombshell: Maybe you just ought to find something else to do if you can't be on the team MORE said he would order a review of the bureau's protocols for investigating such tips. 

Reps. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyRosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Gowdy: Declassified documents unlikely to change anyone's mind on Russia investigation Sunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate MORE (R-S.C.) and Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse Judiciary chair threatens subpoena if DOJ doesn’t supply McCabe memos by Tuesday Rosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ House Judiciary chair: Nellie Ohr is cooperating, will testify 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.