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Florida High School Students Demand Assault Weapons Ban


We're going to turn now to Florida. That's where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is going to remain closed today after last week's deadly shooting there. But buses packed with students who survived will be on the roads. At least 100 of them are headed to Tallahassee, the state capital. They plan to call on lawmakers to ban assault weapons. Activists and survivors in Parkland, Fla., say they are hoping to start a new movement. And we have Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio with us on Skype. He's been covering the aftermath of this tragedy.

And Brian, does this shooting feel different?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah, it does feel different. And the students who I've been talking to here say that it has to be different this time. They say too many children have died and are dying in schools and on college campuses. This is the third mass shooting I've covered, and their energy is unlike anything I've ever seen. And a lot of their argument, David, is just a basic moral demand. They say adults have to protect children. And I talked about this with Megan Smith. She's a senior there at Stoneman Douglas who survived the attack. Two of her friends were killed. And she said she is outraged that grown-ups allowed this to happen.

MEGAN SMITH: I still go to high school. I'm still a child. I am - I live with my parents. It's not my job. It's y'all's job, my community's job. And we're not safe. Nobody is. Not even adults are because, you know, the Las Vegas shooting - that wasn't just kids. It needs to change.

MANN: And one thing that interested me about Megan, David, is that she described herself as a conservative, but she told me it should be harder for people to acquire semi-automatic rifles. Students here want age restrictions on guns, better background checks, and a lot of them do want rifles like the AR-15 banned.

GREENE: I mean, just listening to Megan there, Brian - you said two of her friends were killed, and she has turned this quickly to activism. I mean, things are still so raw. Funerals are still underway, right? But these students have decided they just want to get their message out.

MANN: Yeah. They're trying to seize this moment, for sure, but it is raw here. Seventeen people are dead, David, and people are heartbroken. There were two more funerals yesterday for Alaina Petty - she was 14 - and Luke Hoyer, who's 15. Parkland - you know, this is a community that viewed itself as a safe, successful American community with great values, and that's really been shattered here. So whatever happens in Tallahassee with this bus trip today and in Washington, all of that's going to take a long time to heal.

GREENE: And what about the shooting suspect? He was in court under heavy guard, it sounds like.

MANN: Yeah, he was. This was a really brief, procedural appearance for Nikolas Cruz. He's this 19-year-old who police say has confessed to this murder. His defense attorney tells reporters he feels remorse and sorrow for these actions. And I think one of the most startling things was just that we got to see this young man. Most mass murderers aren't caught alive. And so he looked absolutely shattered in court, staring down, barely responding to his attorneys.

GREENE: Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio in Florida. Brian, thanks.

MANN: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.