A day ahead of March for Our Lives, the South Florida school shooting survivors leading the gun control demonstration made their presence felt Friday in Washington, pressing lawmakers for their cause and asking why more restrictions hadn’t already been passed.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter claimed 17 lives February 14 in Parkland, met face-to-face with legislators as part of a full day of pre-march events in the nation’s capital.
“America: We are your future. Why won’t you protect us?” Demitri Hoth asked during a morning news conference on Capitol Hill with scores of fellow students standing behind him.
Survivors of the Parkland shooting quickly became the faces of a national conversation on gun control, and are lobbying lawmakers for more restrictive gun laws – including a ban on assault-style rifles and higher-capacity magazines.
Small groups of students met Friday morning with members of Congress while other students visited the Newseum to discuss their experiences in the mass shooting.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also met privately with some Stoneman Douglas students and their parents in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Later, some students attended a vigil at the Washington National Cathedral and an evening concert headlined by the rock band Fall Out Boy.
“This is a time for action. We need to support the Parkland teens, and kids across the country,” Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz said in a statement. “We have their backs, and we must demand our lawmakers do more to end this gun violence crisis.”
March for Our Lives
Friday’s events were prelude to Saturday afternoon’s March for Our Lives, a demonstration for stricter gun control expected to draw students, teachers and parents from across the country to the capital. Hundreds of sister events are expected in cities around the globe over the weekend, organizers said.
The march – organized by the Stoneman Douglas student group #NeverAgain and the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety – is the culmination of a monthlong effort to honor the victims of the shooting, and to push for an end to gun violence.
’Do the right thing’
Hoth said politicians still have “time to do the right thing.”
“We students have become victims of our government’s glaring inaction, but never again,” he said. “We have come here today to hold accountable politicians and their disturbing inaction.
“Never again will our voices – students’ voices – be shunned into silence.”
Not all of the students at the news conference were from Stoneman Douglas. Keshon Newman of Chicago recalled how his oldest stepbrother was shot and killed while walking with his girlfriend two years ago.
“In Chicago, it’s important for you to know that gun violence has become a tragic way of life, which shouldn’t be the normal way of life,” he said. “No, we don’t have random mass shootings; we have daily shootings.
“This is why I’m here: Because we must stop letting this become the normal in Chicago,” he said.
Some Democratic lawmakers who support #NeverAgain’s stance attended Friday morning’s news conference and argued that the students’ push has made a difference. They pointed to a measure included in a $1.3 trillion spending package that Congress passed early Friday – one that would incentivize state and federal authorities to report more data to the country’s gun background check system.
More is needed, including requiring background checks for all gun purchases, such as at gun shows, said US Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents the congressional district that includes Parkland.
But he said, “The legislation that we passed … wouldn’t have happened were (it) not for the students and their families.”
Also at the news conference was former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was severely wounded by a gunshot to the head in 2011, and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.
“What’s really exciting,” said Kelly, an advocate for more gun restrictions, is “they’re not going to be students very long – they’re going to be voters.”
“That is what is going to really make a difference,” Kelly said.
In one related event overseas, Americans in Israel rallied Friday in front of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, along with at least one Parkland student.
“American citizens and students in Israel, Pantsuit Nation Israel, Democrats Abroad-Israel and survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are standing together to stop the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States by advocating for stronger gun control laws,” rally organizer Marni Mandell said.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher contributed to this report.