The teen survivors of a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida wasted no time in calling for action on gun violence this week, even as Republican lawmakers argued it was too soon to address the issue.
Seventeen people were killed and at least 14 were injured on Wednesday after a lone gunman entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus and opened fire. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspected gunman, has since been charged with 17 counts of pre-meditated murder.
Information about the shooting is still being released, but many familiar patterns have already emerged: the shooter appears to have used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle that he purchased legally; one student also claimed that he had been abusive toward an ex-girlfriend, though that account has not yet been confirmed.
Both of those things prompted several young survivors affected by Wednesday’s shooting to speak out.
“My sister, she’s a freshman, and she had two of her best friends die. And that’s not acceptable. That’s something that we should not let happen in this country, especially when we’re going to school,” said David Hogg, a student who survived the massacre. Hogg, who did not give his age, told CNN that lawmakers need to act on gun control swiftly.
“The fact that this is the 18th school shooting and this is only February is a testament…we need to dig out of this hole,” he said. “We need to step out of it and take a look back and realize that there’s something seriously wrong here. And some of our policymakers…need to look in the mirror and take some action, because ideas are great, but without action, ideas stay ideas and children die.”
A student journalist, Hogg also filmed interviews with his classmates as they hid during the shooting.
“What’s your message?” Hogg asked a fellow student, in one of the videos.
“I really don’t think there’s anything to say, but there shouldn’t have to be. Because if you looked around this closet and saw everyone hiding together, you would know that this shouldn’t be happening anymore and that it doesn’t deserve to happen to anyone […],” the female classmate responded. “No amount of money should make it more easily accessible to get guns and that’s that.”
Another student told Hogg that they had “personally…rallied for gun rights and…not necessarily less control” in the past, but that the experience had “changed my viewpoint.”
“I wanted to be a junior NRA member, I wanted to learn how to hunt, I was always fascinated by guns as a young girl, but this experience was so traumatizing to the point where I can’t even fathom the idea of a gun in my house,” said the student, who chose not to be pictured on camera. “To have the bullet pointed at me, my school, my classmates, my mentors…it’s definitely eye-opening to the fact that we need more gun control in our country.”
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers downplayed any chance for a re-evaluation of gun laws following Wednesday’s shooting. Some argued that the timing was wrong for conversations about immediate legislation; others, including President Trump, pointed to Cruz’s mental health as an underlying reason for the tragedy — a common argument that has been refuted by experts and mental health advocates.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” Trump tweeted.
Many lawmakers have offered a familiar “thoughts and prayers” response to the tragedy, posting statements and tweets devoid of any actual promise to commit to legislative talks.
“I am heartbroken for the students & family of those involved in this horrible tragedy & I’m praying for our first responders as they act swiftly to contain the situation,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) tweeted.
“Just spoke to Broward School Superintendent,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) wrote. “Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.”
Both Gardner and Rubio have received significant contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA) over the span of their careers — Gardner has received at least $3,879,064, and Rubio approximately $3,303,355. Both have also been slow to act on gun control.
That fact did not escape the young survivors of Wednesday’s tragedy.
“I don’t want your condolences you fucking price [sic] of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead,” a 16-year-old named Sarah, who identified herself as a student, tweeted in response to Trump earlier statement, sending condolences to the victims’ families. “Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.”
A user named Nikki simply tweeted, “Why was a student able to terrorize my school mr president[?]”
“I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings,” wrote one student, Carly, in response to conservative commentator Tomi Lahren. Lahren had tweeted that the shooting wasn’t “about a gun” but rather “about another lunatic.”
“This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns,” Carly added.
On MSNBC, sophomore Isabella Gomez pleaded with the president to address the issue of gun control quickly.
“He really needs to take into consideration gun control,” she said. “There’s no reason that a kid, 19 years old that’s been investigated already, and not even a year ago, [should be] able to purchase an AR-15.”
Calls for gun control have failed to gain traction in the past, despite the unique prevalence of mass shootings and gun violence in the United States. Instead, Congress has taken steps to further weaken gun control protections as recently as last December. That reality is one young people contending with the aftermath of a tragedy seem prepared to reject — loudly.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article stated the total number of mass shootings in 2018 as 40 and the number of shootings at schools as 18; those figures have been corrected to 30 and 17, respectively.