Survivors of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., emerged from meetings with state lawmakers in Tallahassee, Fla., on Wednesday vowing to continue their movement until U.S. lawmakers enact stricter gun laws.
Alfonso Calderon, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, warned critics who have dismissed the “Never Again” campaign as a knee-jerk reaction by traumatized kids.
“A lot of people think that that disqualifies us from even having an opinion on this sort of matter,” Calderon said. “It’s that because we’ve been through a traumatic experience that we don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re speaking irrationally. I want everybody to remember, that is not the case. We, more than anybody else, understand the violence, when it comes to certain guns. We, more than anybody else, understand what it feels like to lose somebody. We, more than anybody else, know what it’s like to have a beautiful community like Parkland and have it taken away from us.”
“Trust me, I understand,” Calderon continued. “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’s like to text my parents, ’Goodbye. I might never, ever ever get to see you again. And I love you.’”
The 16-year-old was one of more than 100 students who met with lawmakers at the state’s Capitol building, a day after the Florida House of Representatives refused to consider a motion to take up legislation to impose a ban on assault weapons.
“Although we’re just kids, we know,” Calderon added. “We’re old enough to understand financial responsibilities. We are old enough to understand why a senator cares about reelection or not. We are old enough to understand why someone might want to discredit us for their own political purposes. But we will not be silenced.”
The students have drawn criticism from some conservatives who have accused them of being too young to understand the nuances of the gun-control debate or have suggested that they may have been coached — even going as far as to label the well-spoken survivors of the massacre “crisis actors.”
“Should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?” former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly tweeted.
“Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda,” former GOP Rep. Jack Kingston said on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday. “Do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”
“What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?” Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review. “They were present during a mass shooting, and they have the right point of view, according to the Left.”
Lorenzo Prado, also a junior at Stoneman Douglas, said he was inside the sound booth in the school’s auditorium when the bullets began to fly.
Prado said he was initially mistaken as a suspect because he was nervously pacing back and forth, and his clothes matched the description of the alleged gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. He said he was detained at gunpoint by members of the SWAT team.
“I thought they were here to rescue me,” Prado recalled. “They thought it was me that killed the 17 people.”
Prado said he is angry not only at the killer, but also at U.S. laws that allowed “a deranged gunman” to legally purchase the weapons he used to kill.
“The law has failed us,” Prado said. “What we must do now is enact change, because that is what we do to things that fail, we change them. To not change the law in our time of need would be a huge disservice [to] the 17 dead in Parkland, the 13 dead in Columbine, the 26 dead in Sandy Hook, the 50 dead in Orlando, the 59 dead in Las Vegas.”
Sarah Chadwick, another junior at Stoneman Douglas, said she thinks of the school as her home.
“On Feb. 14, 2018, an intruder broke into my home and robbed 17 innocent souls of a chance to impact the world,” Chadwick said.
The surviving students, she said, are trying to enact change in their honor.
“Never again should a child be afraid to go to school,” Chadwick said. “Never again should students have to protest for their lives.
Delaney Tarr, a Stoneman Douglas senior and co-organizer of next month’s March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., admitted that it’s “scary” to think that students have emerged as the country’s leading voices on the issue of gun control.
“To see us listed as these heroes, as these bastions of change, it’s scary, because we are teenagers,” Tarr said. “We are children.”
But Tarr said their naivete is also an asset for the student-led movement.
“Speaking from the heart is what we do best,” Tarr said. “It is based in passion. And it is based in pain. Our biggest flaws, our tendency to be a bit too aggressive, our tendency to lash out — things that you expect from a normal teenager — these are our strengths.”
“We’ve had enough of thoughts and prayers,” Tarr added. “We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action, demanding that you make a change.”
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