PARKLAND, Florida—The stages of grief are active in the young lives of students who survived America’s latest school shooting, but it’s the last stage—the acceptance stage—that they will not allow to set in.
Fourteen children and three adults were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday. It was the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Unlike mass murders since then, where people have resigned themselves to gun laws not changing, this time already appears to be different, thanks to the kids.
“I don’t even have a job. I don’t even have any money,” Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told The Daily Beast on Sunday. “Stopping this from happening again is my life now.”
“The heart of this movement is in Parkland... Parkland is strong and it’s the type of community that can make change from tragedy,” Cameron Kasky said to the crowd of gun reform supporters at North Community Park, less than a quarter-mile from the high school.
“Stop yelling at each other, stop it with the Republicans and the Democrats... for God’s sake, fucking hug each other,” Kasky said.
Just outside the high school, teddy bears, flowers, candles, and personalized messages to the fallen stand out from the crime scene tape that still surrounds the perimeter gate. A row of parked cars on the grass down a residential street indicates a private memorial.
The students, parents, and teachers have started the #NeverAgainMSD movement and have organized the March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., to demand action on guns, which seems already to be having an impact on staunch pro-gun legislators.
Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents Parkland, told The Daily Beast on Monday that the push for gun reform feels “different this time.”
“Now, is it just because this happened in my backyard where the connections are so close and the pain is so raw? I don’t know, maybe, but I don’t think so,” Deutch said.
“It’s different because you have all of these brave young adults who have unfortunately aged far beyond their years as a result of this shooting, leading the effort,” Deutch said. “The difference between now and in the past is this is the active shooter generation. These kids have been doing active shooter drills since they started kindergarten.”
On the national level, White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters on Friday that President Donald Trump “is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system” for firearm purchases.
The bipartisan Senate bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) seeks to improve the reporting process of offenses on the state and local levels that could further aid in keeping firearms out of potentially dangerous individuals.
“This is not a Second Amendment issue, it’s a public safety issue,” Deutch said. “He [Trump] spent a lot of time complaining about extreme vetting in the context of immigration. Well, we certainly should do extreme vetting of people who are about to purchase a firearm that could cause the kind of mass casualties that we’ve seen over the past few years.”
Meanwhile, in Florida, pro-gun legislation seeking to expand, not restrict, current gun laws has stalled for the moment. The bills that were set to come to the floor and pass within the state’s House and Senate were pulled amid the growing national attention on Florida.
If passed, the bills would have sought to change Florida from a concealed carry to an open carry state; provide broader authorities to people with concealed carry licenses to move from state to state without violating state or federal laws; and provide teachers with firearms.
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told The Daily Beast that Republicans in Tallahassee were “embarrassed” to have the legislative bills on the floor as Florida gained national attention after the shooting.
“The power is primarily Republican in Florida and they’re not willing to compromise,” Furr told The Daily Beast on Sunday.
In a early sign of progress for the #NeverAgainMSD movement, Florida state legislators in the House and Senate signaled they would draft new legislation aimed at curtailing access to semi-automatic rifles by raising the legal age of purchase from 18 to 21 years old and provide a three-day waiting period before the firearm sale is complete.
“We owe it to victims of families on what I now consider the absolute most important issue of the session,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
However, the plan stops short of the demands from the majority of Parkland residents, who call for an all-out ban on assault rifles. Florida Gov. Rick Scott told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, “Everything’s on the table. I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”
When asked if he supported tightening gun restrictions in the state, Scott told CNN, “We cannot let this pass without making something happen that hopefully, and it’s my goal that this will never happen again in my state.”
Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ PAC has begun running attack ads against Scott over his gun policy record, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Specifically, the ads target Scott’s supporting a bill that prevents doctors, including mental health professionals, from asking patients if they owned a firearm. Scott currently has a A+ rating from the NRA.
Florida has historically been the epicenter for legislative test bedding for new or modified bills backed by the NRA in support of expanding gun rights that influence how firearms are regulated in other U.S. states, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, for example, gives legal protections to people who use deadly force in public if they feel they were in imminent danger.
The effort in Florida is led by the first female president of the National Rifle Association. Additionally, the gun lobby is bolstered by suburban financial backing and a dedicated voter base that keeps Republican lawmakers in office.
Florida’s gun laws came under scrutiny in recent years, especially after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and in Fort Lauderdale in 2016. However, despite the national attention then and now, the only movement on gun legislation out of Tallahassee is proposals to relax restrictions on gun owners and expand the scope of where guns could be carried.
Meanwhile, local officials like those in Broward County are hamstrung by a law that prevents local officials and police chiefs from passing new laws or amending existing gun laws. The provision even allows for the arrest of local officials who try to challenge the law.
“We could very quickly figure out something that could further protect our citizens, but right now that won’t see the light of day,” Furr said.
Carlos J. Reyes, the executive director for Broward County’s Charter Review Commission, says it is working to see what can be done immediately to provide additional protections for residents.
“There’s currently a section within our charter that regulates handguns, but because of the state statute, that’s considered null and void. The mere thought of trying to introduce change from a policymaker triggers a violation of the statute,” Reyes said. “It’s a $5,000 fine and removal from office.”
“So when we say ‘our hands are tied,’ it’s literal. It means going to jail if we try to pass any common-sense measures,” Furr told The Daily Beast.