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Parents of slain Parkland students go to Congress hoping for consensus on school safety, gun reforms

Stand With Parkland members will testify Thursday before a U.S. Senate committee hearing on enhancing school safety.
Tony Montalto, right, father of Gina Rose Montalto, who was killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and April Schentrup, left, who's daughter Carmen was killed also, speak to members of the media during a break in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Meeting, Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Sunrise, Fla. Montalto is a member of Stand With Parkland, which will speak Thursday before a U.S. Senate committee hearing.
Published Jul. 25
Updated Jul. 25

Some movements born out of last year’s Parkland school shooting are demanding swift bans on military style weapons. They’ve declared war on the National Rifle Association and have called for boycotts of businesses on social media. They’re mobilizing and they’re political.

Then, there’s Stand With Parkland, started by the parents and family members of students and staff killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They’re hoping to win over hearts and minds of lawmakers by pushing for incremental but effective ideas that can get bipartisan support.

“We don’t want to hold out for the home runs,” said Tony Montalto, the organization’s president and father of Gina Montalto, a 14-year-old victim of the Parkland shooting. “We want to hit a bunch of singles and score the same amount of runs.”

On Thursday morning, Stand With Parkland will get its turn in the batters box when members appear before a U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. Tom Hoyer, who lost his 15-year-old son Luke in the shooting, will speak to the panel of senators during a hearing on enhancing school safety.

RELATED: How the Parkland shooting changed Florida politics

In post-Parkland Florida, young people are still dying from gun violence

Stand With Parkland plans to present ideas for Congress to consider that they believe can win over bipartisan support. It includes more money for school security while limiting access from the public, federal research of school threat assessments and better sharing of information between law enforcement agencies.

It also includes a limited call for modest gun control: allowing law enforcement to confiscate firearms of a person deemed a threat to themselves or others by a judge. Such legislation is often called “Red Flag” laws.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has introduced a bill with bipartisan cosponsors that would incentivize states to enact Red Flag laws. It hasn’t gained much traction so far.

Hoyer believes Stand With Parkland can move the needle because the organization is willing to work with and sit down with anyone — even the NRA.

“We’re not attacking individuals or organizations. We’re not promoting a left or a right agenda. We’re not about slogans or things like that,” Hoyer, the group’s treasurer, said. “We’re actually pretty good at getting in and talking with Democrats and Republicans. And even though it’s a slow process, we think the majority of the people we’re talking to are trying to help us achieve our goals.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is expected to speak at the hearing as well. Gualtieri worked closely with the families of Parkland victims when he crafted recommendations on school safety reform for the legislature to consider this year.

Stand With Parkland supported the package with one notable exception: a provision that allows teachers to carry a firearm in the classroom. The organization strongly opposed the idea, but didn’t stand in the way of it. It ultimately passed and was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“If you stand around and wait for perfect," Montalto said. “You might be waiting a really long time.”

The Senate hearing begins at 9:30 a.m.


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