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After another shooting, Parkland-inspired group rallies in empty Florida Capitol

The 18-year-old student director of March for Our Lives Florida said school shootings are so common they are “not shocking” anymore.
Student activists with the March For Our Lives group, founded after the Feb. 2018 Parkland shooting, hold a banner that promotes their new "peace plan" to prevent gun violence, while demonstrating in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Tallahassee. Emily L. Mahoney | Times
Student activists with the March For Our Lives group, founded after the Feb. 2018 Parkland shooting, hold a banner that promotes their new "peace plan" to prevent gun violence, while demonstrating in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Tallahassee. Emily L. Mahoney | Times
Published Nov. 14, 2019
Updated Nov. 15, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — Just hours after the nation’s phone screens lit up once again with the alert of another school shooting, a group of about 100 high school and college students fanned out behind a podium in Florida’s Capitol and faced TV cameras.

In sometimes shaky voices, they demanded that the violence end.

“America knows the pain and knows this outrage. To the community of Santa Clarita, we stand with you,” said University of Central Florida student Serena Rodrigues, 20, referencing the high school shooting on Thursday that left at least two students dead.

“I should be planning my 14th birthday party,” said middle-schooler Zoe Weissman. “Instead I am here missing a day of school to ask my lawmakers to make change.”

“I’m proud of the leader I’ve evolved to be, and today I ask the representatives of our state to be just that: leaders," said Valeria Perez, 16.

Donning matching blue shirts, the students from the Parkland-inspired March for Our Lives movement lined up to speak at a news conference that lasted almost an hour. They had raised money for the buses that brought them to Tallahassee on GoFundMe.

In the background of the event, a custodian rolled a trash can across the floor, cleaning out the building that had largely emptied of lawmakers.

On Thursday afternoons, when most lawmakers have wrapped up their committees, it’s typical for them to head back to their districts.

It was a scene far removed from the aftermath of the February 2018 shooting in Parkland, when hundreds of students descended on Tallahassee to protest and meet with lawmakers, and the state’s seat of power was tangibly raw.

At that time, the Legislature passed a landmark law that included raising the gun purchasing age to 21, the first gun restrictions passed in Florida in two decades. But the students said much more needs to be done.

At the news conference, they rolled out a six-point “peace plan” that included specific requests to Florida’s leaders, including that they establish a task force on gun violence prevention and close loopholes for purchasing guns and ammunition. They walked a paper copy of the plan to the governor’s office.

A handful of Democratic lawmakers joined the students at the event, including Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith, both from the Orlando area rocked by the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.

Smith is re-filing his bill to ban military-style assault weapons, a measure that hasn’t gotten a hearing since he first filed it in 2017. He said the juxtaposition between Thursday’s demonstration and the immediate days after the Parkland shooting was “obvious.”

“But the momentum behind this movement is still there,” he said. “Lawmakers may have gotten complacent and they may have made a political calculation that now it is OK to ignore the March For Our Lives movement ... but we disagree.”

Alyssa Ackbar, an 18-year-old college student from Tampa, said the news of the latest school shooting didn’t surprise her. She was among the the students who came to Tallahassee immediately after Parkland, and is now the Florida director for March For Our Lives.

“Incidents like this ... they’re very tragic but they’re not shocking anymore,” she said. “Because it very much is a norm in this nation.”

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