With survivors of the Parkland shooting in the gallery, the Florida House voted down a motion to consider banning assault rifles like the one that Nikolas Cruz used to kill 17 people in the Valentine’s Day shooting of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
On February 20th, Democratic Representative Kionne McGhee asked the House to consider Bill HB 219, a bill that would ban assault weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland Shooting and large capacity magazines. While the bill was already under investigation by three smaller committees, McGhee said that the committee’s inactivity meant the bill would essentially be dead unless they moved to have it be considered by the House. “While this is an extraordinary procedural move, the shooting in Parkland demands extraordinary action,” McGhee told the House before the vote. “I ask that you keep this bill and the conversation about the solution to combat mass shootings alive.”
Watching during the vote were several teenage survivors of the recent shooting. These students were part of a student movement to march on the Capitol and arrived a day ahead of their peers.
McGhee’s motion was voted down 36-71 in the Republican-dominated house, and the students present were disappointed in the results of the vote. “It was just so heartbreaking to see how many [voters’] names were up there, especially after it was my school,” 16-year-old Sheryl Acquaroli told Anderson Cooper 360˚. “It seemed almost heartless how they immediately pushed the button to say no.” Acquaroli also opined that the next mass shooting committed with an AR-15 will be the fault of lawmakers: “They had a chance to stop it today. If there is another mass shooting [in Florida] it’s going to be their fault.”
The bill’s sponsor, Representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith, was similarly disappointed. He has been pushing for greater gun control since the shooting on Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub that killed 49 people in 2016. “Unfortunately, just five days after 17 people were gunned down at a Florida school, the Florida House just passed a bill that declares pornography a ‘public health risk,’” Representative Guillermo-Smith (below, center) told reporters from the Independent. “Basically, what they have determined is that these are the Republican priorities in 2018: Wasting our time with debate and legislation that declares porn as a health threat, meanwhile we can’t even get a single debate, vote, or hearing on anything related to assault weapons. That’s really sad.”
But neither Representative Guillermo-Smith or the survivors of the Parkland Shooting appear to be giving up. The teen survivors are organizing a “March for our Lives” on Washington, DC, scheduled to take place on March 24th. According to the group’s Facebook page, there are already satellite marches planned in over 15 cities, as well as one in England. The group is asking that “a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”
“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,” group organizer Cameron Kasky wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account. This time we are going to pressure them to take action.” And, at a Tallahassee rally after the vote failed, 18-year-old survivor Diego Pfeiffer echoed Kasky’s optimism. “On great decisions in the past, there have been two sides and the good side always wins out in the end … This isn’t about school shootings, and this isn’t about … violence anymore, this is about hope. This is about moving forward with everybody. This is about you guys. This is about everybody here making a difference.”