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article imageAfter Florida shooting, students spurred to act against guns

By Leila MACOR (AFP)     Feb 17, 2018 in World

When the gunshots rang out at her Florida high school, Lorena Sanabria hid in a classroom with friends, forced to listen to the blood-curdling screams of victims as they waited for help and prayed they wouldn't be next.

Now Lorena, 16, is among a new wave of survivors determined to add their uniquely powerful voices to the cause of gun control, which has failed to make headway despite the alarming frequency of such attacks in the United States.

Seventeen perished and more than a dozen were wounded in the hail of bullets at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the latest mass shooting to devastate a small US community and renew calls for gun control.

In an emotional interview in which she frequently fought back tears, the dark-haired teen admitted that despite a keen interest in women's rights and equality, she had never considered herself particularly interested in politics -- until now.

"I think that now more than ever, us as students, we should use our voice, you know the voices through the cameras -- we should use this to speak directly to the government... and beg them to please make changes to the policies," she told AFP.

Among the policies Lorena wants to see reformed are the ease with which Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old gunman behind the massacre, was able to purchase his military-grade AR-15 assault rifle legally, because he did not have a criminal record.

"It shouldn't be normal that parents should be worrying about sending their kids with bulletproof backpacks" to school, she added.

Demand has reportedly surged for such backpacks in the aftermath of the shooting, which online giant Amazon sells from $140 up.

- New visibility -

Since January 2013, there have been at least 291 school shootings across the country -- an average of one a week, according to the non-profit group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Cameron Kasky  a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School  published an eloquent essay online...
Cameron Kasky, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, published an eloquent essay online blasting both Republican and Democratic politicians for failing to protect kids from gun violence
RHONA WISE, AFP/File

But the Parkland massacre has been distinguished by students' new willingness to step into the media glare and grant interviews that are particularly critical of the Republican Party and its deep financial ties to the powerful National Rifle Association lobby.

In an eloquent essay published online, 17-year-old student Cameron Kasky blasted both Republican and Democratic politicians for not doing anything.

"We can't ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises," he wrote. "And so, I'm asking -- no, demanding -- we take action now."

President Donald Trump, who received $30 million from the NRA during his election campaign, has suggested root cause of mass shootings including the Parkland massacre was a crisis of mental health -- and defied calls to address gun control.

Marco Rubio, a Florida senator who himself has received large NRA donations, has also been dismissive toward stricter gun controls, saying that someone planning an attack "will figure out a way to evade those (gun) laws."

Such arguments get short shrift from Lorena. "Look at other countries," she argued. "You have to go through a process and tests, mental tests, background checks, you have to get through so much just to get a small gun, not a rifle, not a AR-15."

Lorena said that what hurt her the most was that under current laws, repeated warnings to authorities about a person's erratic behavior cannot factor into their ability to own a firearm.

Cruz was reported to local police by his late mother on numerous occasions, CNN reported Friday, while the FBI has also admitted it did not follow up on a tip about him.

As Lorena and her classmates hunkered down beneath the tables and chairs of their classroom that fateful Wednesday afternoon, glued to their phones, the revelation of the shooter's identity was far from shocking.

"Everyone was just like, 'We're not surprised, we're not surprised that it was him,'" she recalled.

"You know, he had shown signs that he would do something like this including his Instagram pictures. He was fetishizing killing animals and you know, showing off his guns, and just the fact that people weren't surprised, it makes you think, you know."

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