By Brendan Farrington, Gary Fenout & Terry Spencer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The student-driven movement to rewrite gun laws showed no sign of waning a week after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida school, with politicians yielding to pressure to respond.
President Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed certain gun control moves amid the public outcry, saying “there’s nothing more important than protecting our children.” And Republican leaders in Florida indicated they’d be open to some changes after students rallied at the state Capitol.
Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said a visit to the school where the shooting occurred has prompted him to change his stance on large capacity magazines.
Rubio, a Republican, insisted that he is willing to rethink his past opposition on gun proposals if there is information the policies would prevent mass shootings.
“If we are going to infringe on the Second Amendment, it has to be a policy that will work,” Rubio said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
As the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination approaches, the daughter of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said limiting gun access is long overdue. The Rev. Bernice King said she hopes people can “look toward solutions as these young people are forcing us to have the conversations, bipartisan conversations.”
Speaking at The King Center in Atlanta, King said tragedy “gives us an opportunity to lay aside for a moment our differences and really look at how we can come together as humanity and move forward with these injustices and these evils that continue to beset us.”
The survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School have vowed to continue their activism, including a “March for Our Lives” in Washington next month, which King says she’ll attend.
At a funeral for slain football coach Aaron Feis, retired school groundskeeper Dave Tagliavia said he thinks the students mean what they say and won’t back down.
“I think if changes are going to be made, these kids are going to do it. They’ve got fire in their eyes,” he said.
A day after an emotional meeting with survivors and their families, Trump tweeted his strongest stance yet on gun control. He said he would endorse strengthening background checks, banning “bump stock” style devices and raising the minimum age to 21 for buying certain rifles.
At a conference of conservative activists Thursday near Washington, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would make school safety “our top national priority” after the shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida.
Calling school shootings “evil in our time,” Pence exhorted those in positions of authority “to find a way to come together with American solutions.”
It was a markedly different tone than that deployed on stage minutes earlier by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, who delivered an unbowed defense of gun ownership and lashed out at Democrats — saying they are using the tragedy for “political gain.”
In Parkland, hundreds gathered to remember Feis, 37, an assistant football coach and security guard gunned down while helping students to safety during the mass shooting
Joe LaGuardia, who attended high school with Feis at Stoneman Douglas, described him as “one of the greatest people I have ever known.”
Students converged on Florida’s Capitol to take their concerns about gun control to state lawmakers Wednesday. Outside the building, many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said that in future elections they would oppose any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the attack. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons.
On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson gave Sen. Marco Rubio credit for being the only Republican to attend a televised town hall Wednesday night held in the aftermath of the school shooting and criticized Republican Gov. Rick Scott for not showing up.
“I commended (Rubio) for being there. He had the guts to be there when Governor Scott did not,” Nelson told a group of Democratic state senators.
Scott is likely to challenge Nelson as he seeks a fourth term in the Senate this November. Nelson questioned Scott’s commitment to make meaningful change after the shooting.
Republican legislative leaders in Florida say they will consider legislation that will likely call for raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and increasing funding for mental health programs and school resource officers, the police assigned to specific schools.
Lawmakers are also considering a program promoted by one Florida sheriff that calls for deputizing someone, possibly trained teachers, to carry a weapon on campus. Legislators may also enact a waiting period for rifle purchases.
Florida Senate President Senate President Joe Negron said his chamber is working with the House as both chambers prepare legislation as a response to the Parkland shootings. He said a final draft should be available “early next week at the latest.”
What won’t be considered is a ban on assault-style rifles.
“Let’s follow the Constitution,” Negron said. “We have a commitment to follow the Constitution in difficult times as well as in times when those rights are not in question.”