Students, parents demand gun curbs after Florida school shooting
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Students, parents demand gun curbs after Florida school shooting

Friends and families make impassioned plea for tighter laws ahead of visit by Trump; shooter was member of NRA-supported target rifle team

People protest against the National Rifle Association at the Broward County Court House, during the first appearance in court via video link for high school shooter Nikolas Cruz, on February 15, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (AFP Photo/Pool/Charles Trainor/Miami Herald)
People protest against the National Rifle Association at the Broward County Court House, during the first appearance in court via video link for high school shooter Nikolas Cruz, on February 15, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (AFP Photo/Pool/Charles Trainor/Miami Herald)

PARKLAND, Florida — Anger boiled over among parents and students in Parkland, Florida, on Friday over America’s unwillingness to toughen gun control laws, after a disturbed teenager armed with an assault rifle murdered 17 at the local high school.

With US President Donald Trump planning to visit bereaved families in the shocked southern community as early as Friday, a groundswell arose for a new push to restrict the availability of guns and better protect schools.

Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa died in Wednesday’s shooting, and who made a powerfully emotional appeal to Trump the following day, addressing a television camera with tears rolling down her face.

“We need action! action! action!” Alhadeff urged in an interview with CNN on Friday, addressing the US leader as the father of an 11-year-old son of his own.

“President Trump, Barron goes to school,” she said. “Let’s protect Barron, and let’s also protect all these other kids here in Parkland, in Florida, and everyone everywhere else in the United States of America,” she said.

“My child is dead. I can’t help her. But I can help all those other kids at Stoneman Douglas High School. We have to protect our children.”

Carly Novell, a senior at the school who survived the shooting, said it was time for politicians to act.

“I just want people to stop, like, talking about it and then not doing anything. People keep, like, saying your thoughts and prayers and all of these things, but it doesn’t make a difference if nothing ever changes.”

The 19-year-old murderer excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation. It was part of a multi-million dollar effort by the pro-gun group to support youth shooting clubs.

Nikolas Cruz was wearing a shirt with the logo of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program when he was arrested. Former cadets told The Associated Press that Cruz was on the varsity marksmanship team that competed against other area schools.

The cadets used air rifles special-made for target shooting. The JROTC program at Cruz’s school received $10,827 in non-cash assistance from the NRA’s foundation while he was there.

NRA declined to comment. The foundation gave nearly $2.2 million to schools in 2016.

Cruz was filmed by a neighbor practicing his shooting months before Wednesday’s deadly attack.

Trump to visit stricken community

Trump tweeted Friday that he planned to meet with victims in the sprawling suburban community about 35 miles north of Miami, although it was not yet clear when the meeting would take place.

The US leader is spending the long President’s Day weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort, a 45 minute drive from Parkland.

“I will be leaving for Florida today to meet with some of the bravest people on earth — but people whose lives have been totally shattered,” he said.

US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on the Florida school shooting on February 15, 2018. (AFP Photo)

But Trump risked being greeted with angry demands for action on laws that allowed Cruz — who was expelled from Stoneman Douglas and whose behavior had unnerved acquaintances — to buy an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.

“It’s illogical that the law says a minor can’t have a drink, but can buy a gun,” said Mavy Rubiano, the 47-year-old mother of a student who survived the shooting.

Stoneman Douglas students have taken to social media to blast defenders of the nation’s loose gun laws.

In an eloquent essay published online, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky blasted both Republican and Democratic politicians for not doing anything.

“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” he wrote.

“And so, I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now. Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience — our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.”

Republicans sidestep gun control issue

In Washington the political response so far makes clear that the powerful National Rifle Association pro-gun lobby — which spent $30 million to support Trump’s election in 2016 — remains formidable.

On Thursday Trump’s nationally televised address made no mention of guns, or of previous mass shootings.

A video monitor shows school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz (center) with public defender Melisa McNeille (right), making an appearance before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica in the Broward County Court, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Thursday, February 15, 2018. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Trump instead treated the Parkland massacre — the 30th mass shooting of 2018 according to the Gun Violence Archive — as a singular event. He focused on offering sympathies to the families of the victims, on the need to tackle the challenges of mental health.

Republican House leader Paul Ryan, whose campaigns have earned NRA support, said Thursday that it was not a time for arguing over gun control, while Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio said new gun laws alone would not stop shootings.

Easily bought war weapon

As with previous mass shootings, the focus of gun control advocates was on the ready availability of the AR-15, a semi-automatic civilian version of the US military’s standard-issue M16.

The NRA calls the AR-15 “America’s most popular rifle.”

The storefront of Sunrise Tactical Supply is seen in Coral Springs, Florida, on February 16, 2018. School shooter Nikolas Cruz bought his AR-15 at the store to gun down students at Marjory Stoneman High School. (AFP Photo/Michele Eve Sandberg)

Millions have been sold around the United States — a new one costs as little as $600. Stephen Paddock, who opened fire on a Las Vegas country music concert on October 1, 2017, killing 58 and wounding hundreds more, had more than a dozen AR-15s.

Devin Patrick Kelley, who shot and killed 26 in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, used an AR-15.

And it was with an AR-15 that 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered 26 students and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, the deadliest school shooting in US history.

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