Florida House votes down assault weapons ban debate as students watch on

Every single Republican in Miami-Dade county voted no.

Hundreds of West Boca High School students arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after they walked there in honor of the 17 students shot dead last week. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Hundreds of West Boca High School students arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after they walked there in honor of the 17 students shot dead last week. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Not even a week has passed since Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, but lawmakers in Florida have already demonstrated their complete unwillingness to tackle the issue of gun control.

On Tuesday afternoon, the state House of Representatives voted down a measure to discuss re-implementing the assault weapons ban. The vote was on a procedural move that would have allowed the House to debate and consider a motion to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines — in effect, just a preliminary discussion about the possibility of banning assault weapons.

But the Republican-controlled state House won’t even consider the debate, defeating the motion 36-71 and effectively killing it for this legislative session. The no votes included seven Republican representatives from Miami-Dade County, despite the fact that last week’s shooting took place within the Miami metropolitan area. 

Watching the motion fail from the House gallery in Tallahassee: students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Dozens of students traveled to the state capitol in an attempt to revive the national debate about gun control after a former student killed 14 children and three adults with an AR-15 at their high school.

“We don’t want to take away people’s guns,” senior Jose Iglesias, 17, told the Sun Sentinel. “But no one needs an AR-15. They are only used to kill.”

Several of the students expressed their outrage at the House’s refusal to even consider the assault weapons ban. “That’s kind of just a big screw you,” student Daniel Bishop told the New York Times. “They know that multiple kids… are coming up to the state capitol, which by the way is extremely fair, just to talk to them, and they are not even considering the bill to stop things like this… it’s like they don’t even care.”

Last week’s shooting brought out some depressingly familiar stories that seem to circulate after every mass shooting — like politicians offering vacuous “thoughts and prayers”, far-right media spreading fake news, and survivors of the massacre being smeared by conspiracy theorists. However, a shred of optimism can be seen in the reactions from students at Marjory Stoneman who, fed up with adult inaction on gun control, have begun protesting and organizing themselves.

Students in high schools across the country have planned a series of walk outs to protest the latest shooting, with a march on Washington planned for March 24, while survivors have begun to organize in grassroots gun control groups. On Saturday, one of the organizers, 17-year-old senior Emma Gonzalez, delivered a fiery speech at the high school calling for action.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS,” Gonzalez said. “They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS.”

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has cautiously indicated it would be willing to discuss some policy proposals that would restrict gun ownership in wake of the tragedy. On Tuesday, Trump said he was ordering the Department of Justice to draft a rule banning bump stocks, devices that turn legal weapons into fully automatic ones, used to mow down 58 people in October in Las Vegas. But the ban might be easier said than done, since the ATF is unsure whether it has the authority to ban bump stocks outright, instead of Congress passing legislation on it. The administration has also discussed improving the federal background check system, but it remains to be seen if any sort of meaningful change will be enacted this time.