Florida teenagers fight for stricter gun laws

Turning point? Students, including Emma Gonzalez, will march in Washington next month. © Getty

Can the survivors of a high school shooting change America’s gun laws? This weekend, days after 17 of their classmates and teachers were killed, students made a passionate plea for action.

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America... we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

Standing in front of a podium, reading a speech from the back of her school notes, 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez was clearly furious. She stopped every few seconds to wipe away tears, and then carried on.

“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy... I'm going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” she said, to overwhelming cheers. “You want to know something? It doesn't matter, because I already know. Thirty million dollars.

Her speech was made on Saturday afternoon, at a rally in Florida. On Wednesday, she hid in her school’s auditorium while a 19-year-old ex-student carried out the country’s worst school shooting since 2012. In total, 17 people were killed. The shooter has since pleaded guilty.

Although handguns can only be purchased by those over 21, Florida’s gun laws allow anyone over 18 to buy a military-style assault rifle — in this case an AR-15. The shooter passed the required background check, despite the fact that his behaviour had been reported to the authorities several times. The FBI has also admitted that it failed to follow up on a tip-off about him in January.

The students were all born shortly after 13 people were shot and killed at Columbine High School in 1999. At the time, this was seen as a defining moment in the nation’s consciousness. Many schools introduced more rigorous security — but now, it is not even in America’s top ten deadliest mass shootings. Of these, half have taken place in the last five years alone.

But what happened last week “is not just another mass shooting”, insisted student journalist David Hogg. “No shooting is just another mass shooting. This needs to be a turning point.”

Will it?

Crossfire

All previous experience suggests not, argue some. US gun laws are incredibly complicated. The Republican Party has shown little sign of wanting to change them, and they are the ones in power right now. If Barack Obama, who argued in favour of stricter laws, could not introduce them then it is unlikely that Donald Trump will.

This time is different, say others, and for one reason: the students. The survivors of a school shooting have never been so public, their anger never so palpable, as right now. When one commentator said that it was not the time to politicise the event, students tweeted back and insisted that it was. “We’re gonna use this to try and make something better,” said student Cameron Kasky. “This is something that will be stopped.”

You Decide

  1. Will this latest shooting be a turning point for America’s gun laws?
  2. Can teenagers change the world?

Activities

  1. Watch and read the comments from some of the teenager survivors, using the CNN link under Become An Expert. Then write a list of five questions which you would ask them if you were a journalist.
  2. Write your own speech about an issue that you care deeply about. Include a section on why you think it matters to young people.

Some People Say...

“The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure.”

Lyndon B. Johnson, former US president.

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The shooting took place on Wednesday, February 14th, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It lasted six minutes, during which time 17 people were killed. The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, joined the evacuations and left campus, only to be arrested around an hour later. He had been expelled from the school last year. According to CNN, the police had been called to his house 39 times in seven years.
What do we not know?
Although Cruz has pleaded guilty to 17 charges of murder, it is unclear what his motivations were for the attack. Those who knew him said he had a history of violence, an obsession with guns, and had written threatening social media posts. We also do not know whether this shooting really will become a turning point in the gun control debate.

Word Watch

National Rifle Association
A pro-gun lobby in the USA, which advocates the protection of the constitution's second amendment. This allows citizens to bear arms.
Thirty million dollars.
The NRA spent $11.4m supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, and $19.7m opposing Hillary Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
19-year-old
The suspect’s name is Nikolas Cruz.
2012
This was the year in which 26 people, including 20 children, were killed at a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
AR-15
A semi-automatic rifle. Similar weapons have been used for most of America’s deadliest shootings in recent years.
FBI
The security service said it had received a tipoff that Cruz was behaving erratically and might attack a school, but did not investigate thoroughly enough.
Columbine
This had been America’s worst high school shooting until last week. A school walk-out is planned for its 19th anniversary on April 20th.
Top ten
The deadliest took place at a music festival in Las Vegas last year. The second deadliest occurred at Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016.

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