US gun debate: 11 dramatic moments on a day of confrontation

Lawmakers, students and parents sparred over what to do about school shootings

Andrew Pollack discusses the death of his daughter Meadow in the Parkland school shooting as he and his sons attend a listening session on school safety and shootings with US President Donald Trump at the White House. Video: The White House

 

It was a day of tense exchanges, emotion-packed speeches and confrontation as lawmakers, students and parents sparred on Wednesday over what to do about shootings in American schools. From the nation’s capital to Florida’s Statehouse, people affected by gun violence delivered pain-laced, poignant addresses to crowds of passionate supporters, and President Donald Trump listened to a group he had summoned to discuss the problem. There was also some poignant symbolism.

‘What is your definition of a well-regulated militia?’

At an intense town hall-style meeting Wednesday night, Diane Wolk Rogers, a history teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, confronted a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association over the Second Amendment. How did allowing the 19-year-old gunman in last week’s massacre to own an assault rifle represent “a well-regulated militia” as is written in the amendment, she asked.

“Using supporting detail,” Wolk Rogers said to thunderous applause at CNN’s “Stand Up” town hall, “explain to me how an 18-year-old with a military rifle is well regulated.”

Dana Loesch, the national spokeswoman for the NRA, said the phrase in the Second Amendment was meant to protect the rights of anyone who “could operate and service their firearm.” Her answer was roundly booed.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, with his sons as he addresses a listening session with US president Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, with his sons as he addresses a listening session with US president Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

‘I’m never going to see my kid again’

During a discussion with Trump at the White House, Andrew Pollack spoke about the loss of his daughter Meadow. She was among the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, on February 14th. “I’m never ever going to see my kid again,” Pollack told the president. “Never, ever will I see my kid. I want that to sink in. It’s eternity. My beautiful daughter, I’ll never see again.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Sarah Chadwick speaking at a press conference in the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee. Photograph: Colin Abbey/EPA
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Sarah Chadwick speaking at a press conference in the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee. Photograph: Colin Abbey/EPA

‘Never again should I feel guilty to be alive’

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School flooded the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to pass legislation addressing gun violence in the two weeks that remain in the legislative session.

One of the students, Sarah Chadwick, a junior at the school, said she had a simple message for legislators: “Never again.” “Never again should a child be afraid to go to school,” Chadwick said, speaking in the capitol’s rotunda. “Never again should students have to protest for their lives. Never again should an innocent life be taken while trying to gain an education.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Samuel Zeif weeps after talking about how his best friend was killed during last week’s mass shooting, at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Samuel Zeif weeps after talking about how his best friend was killed during last week’s mass shooting, at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

‘How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?’

At the White House gathering on Wednesday, Samuel Zeif, a student at the school in Parkland, fought back tears as he demanded to know why the country tolerated one mass school shooting after another. He said his best friend had been killed.

“I turned 18 the day after, woke up to the news that my best friend was gone,” Zeif said. “I don’t understand why I could still go into a store and buy a weapon of war.” He mentioned the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, and the killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. “How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?” he said. “How did we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook?”

‘But now, we’re angry, we’re pissed’

Spencer Blum, one of the Stoneman Douglas High students who travelled to Tallahassee for demonstrations, said his friends were still mourning the loss of their classmates. But he said so many of the school’s students had mobilised because they are angry.

“We’re angry, we’re pissed, we’re ready for action,” Blum said in an interview on CNN. “We are ready to make ourselves be heard.”

‘These people are trying to stop us’

One of the most outspoken Stoneman Douglas High students, David Hogg, has been attacked by right-wing provocateurs pushing conspiracies, including that he is a “crisis actor”. Hogg addressed the lies on Wednesday.

“These people are trying to stop us, and they are actually helping us out a lot,” Hogg said on MSNBC. “For that, I’m honestly kind of thankful.” He noted that his followers on Twitter had tripled.

Lawmaker says ‘so many’ gunmen turn out to be Democrats

Republican Claudia Tenney said in a radio interview Wednesday that the news media ignores that “the mass murderers end up being Democrats”. Her comments were swiftly condemned by her colleagues in the House. Also, it does not appear that anyone tracks the political affiliation of mass killers.

“Obviously there’s a lot of politics in it,” Tenney said. “And it’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn’t talk about that either.”

Sheryl Acquaroli and Ashley Santoro, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee. Photograph: Colin Hackley/Reuters
Sheryl Acquaroli and Ashley Santoro, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee. Photograph: Colin Hackley/Reuters

‘The next person who dies . . . will be on you’

Outside the Florida State Capitol, Sheryl Acquaroli, another student at Stoneman Douglas High, shouted into a microphone, laying blame squarely at the feet of federal lawmakers. Using a series of rhetorical questions, she demanded action from congressional leaders, as supporters screamed in response and a drummer beat out a rhythmic reply.

“Dear Congress,” Acquaroli yelled, “how can you claim to stand for the people but let your kids get slaughtered like animals in their own school? Why is it that every time we make a step forward you force us back?”

“How many of the thoughts and prayers I have received do I have to check in for some damn action?” she continued. “The next person who dies because of an AR-15,” she said, “will be on you.”

‘This is not the wrong time’

Before a crowd of fellow students in Tallahassee, Florence Yared said it was not too early after the latest mass shooting to discuss changing gun laws. “I’m not trying to take away your Second Amendment rights, nor am I trying to eliminate all guns, but we cannot protect our guns before we protect our children,” Yared said.

‘I understand what it is like to fear for your life’

Inside the Florida State Capitol, Alfonso Calderon assailed the notion that, as young people, students would be unable to understand the situation well enough to speak out about it.

“Trust me, I understand,” said Calderon, a Stoneman Douglas High student. “I was in a closet, locked, for four hours with people who I would consider almost family, crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives.

“I understand what it is like to text my parents: ‘Goodbye, I might never ever, ever get to see you again. I love you,’” he added. “I understand what it is like to fear for your life.”

Students formed a heart on a Florida football field

Students at schools across the United States walked out of class Wednesday to honour the victims of the Stoneman Douglas High shooting. At Coral Springs High School in Florida, hundreds of students stood on a football field to form the shape of a heart. – New York Times

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