March for Our Lives in St. Augustine, nationwide urge gun law action

2022-06-15 13:26:28 By : Ms. Betty Li

Crystal Turner lost two of her children to a shooting on April 1, 2015, in Ohio. Now a Jacksonville resident, she works to help keep others from experiencing the pain she lives with, she said. 

"My phone rang at 12 noon on that day, and I learned that Janea and Donell had both been shot and killed by Janea's estranged husband in the parking lot of one of our family-run businesses," Turner said to a crowd gathered at the Castillo de San Marcos on Saturday. "At that moment, everything in my life changed."   

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Turner, who is a volunteer for Moms Demand Action, is among many around the country pressing lawmakers to address gun violence. 

Over the weekend, calls came across the country with March for Our Lives rallies, an movement that formed after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead, including 14 students. 

Jacklyn Corin, co-founder of March for Our Lives, told CBS News' “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan” that the event was taking place to call on “our U.S. Congress to actually care this time around because children are dying.”

Last month's shooting at an elementary school in Texas left 19 elementary school children dead.

“The reality is that young people are absolutely terrified in this country,” said Corin, noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported gun violence as the leading cause of death of young Americans.

“We can't even enter the spaces that are supposed to make us feel the safest, the places where we're meant to grow and become educated citizens without fearing that we are going to be shot dead in our seats,” said Corin, who was junior class president at the Parkland school in 2018.

“I'm four years removed from the shooting at my high school and I still fear that I picked a seat a little too close — or a little too far from an emergency exit in my college lecture hall,” she said. “No student in this country should have to feel that way.”

Asked if more police are needed to protect schools, Corin said “if we're talking about what to do once a shooter has access to a school, it's just too late.

“More police in schools, arming police officers, arming teachers especially, is not the answer,” she said.

The March for Our Lives rally in Florida were expected to include at least two dozen Florida cities, including Bradenton; Pensacola; Tallahassee; Gainesville; Fort Myers; Port St. Lucie; St. Augustine, where Turner and others spoke; Flagler Beach; Port Orange; Melbourne; Fort Lauderdale; Miami; and Parkland. 

The planned protests against gun violence come at a time when the nation is reeling from two horrific mass shootings only 10 days apart — and Congress at odds over what, if any, legislation to enact.

An 18-year-old gunman opened fire on May 14 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 Black shoppers and employees in what officials have described as a hate crime. On May 24, a gunman, also 18 years of age, killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The Texas incident was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. grade school since the shocking attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, 10 years ago this December.

The March for Our Lives rally in St. Augustine drew more than 100 people to the Castillo de San Marcos lawn on Saturday afternoon. Weather cut the event short, but a few speakers made it to the lectern before the rain set in. And several people spoke with The Record before the event began. 

Sadie Burleson, 17, is a student at Samuel W. Wolfson High School. When she was 13 years old, she wrote a poem to honor the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. 

She recited that poem at the St. Augustine event, called for increased gun-ownership restrictions and said lawmakers should treat gun violence as a public health issue instead of a political one.  

"How many more children must be murdered for our leaders to finally act?" she asked the crowd. "I'm tired of every mass shooting being treated like it was inevitable, like it is a permanent fixture in the fabric of America. I'm tired of hearing people blame these shootings on everything but guns. I'm tired of hearing thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers don't stop bullets." 

Chiara Blair, president of the Flagler College Young Democrats, is from Maryland. Blair, 20, a student of political science, said the issue is close to her heart. 

Her mother, sister and brother-in-law, are all school teachers, she said. 

"I have two nieces and a nephew (who) are in elementary and middle school, so I think about them a lot with this," she said. 

Also thinking about family was Jerry Eiserman, a 71-year-old Fernandina Beach resident who said Saturday's event was his first rally.  

"You know, I've got three grandkids and one on the way, and I just can't see leaving a world like this for them. We're way past constitutional issues. This is now a public health issue."

Eiserman, a gun owner, said he supports stricter gun laws, such as a national law raising the age requirement for owning a gun above 18. 

"It's just insane the idea that we should be putting weapons of mass destruction in the public eye without any regulations. We regulate doctors, plumbers, electricians. You name it. You've got to have a license. You need a license to drive. You need a license to get married, for crying out loud," he said. 

Turner said her story is like far too many others in the country who have lost loved ones to gun violence. 

"Especially those in the U.S Senate, don't look away," she said. "Let me repeat, don't look away. Don't look away from our country's gun violence crisis. It is time that they do their jobs," she said. 

She added, "You don't have to stand by silently and watch your brothers and sisters live in fear. We cannot allow falsehoods, messages of hate, racism, misogyny, transphobia and general ignorance to replicate unchecked." 

Since Sandy Hook, where 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down in 2012, Congress has not passed a single piece of gun control legislation, underscoring the bitter divide around guns in America.

For many Americans, Sandy Hook was a mass shooting so horrific and unconscionable, they expected a shift away from Second Amendment arguments that favor the right to carry and conceal weapons. That hasn't happened, leading some to question whether any measure of gun control can happen in this country.

President Biden has acknowledged the stiff political headwinds as he has sought to drive up pressure on Congress to pass stricter gun limits after such efforts failed following past attacks.

His latest appeal: restore a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. He’s also called on Congress to find middle ground to include keeping firearms from those with mental health issues and/or raising the age to buy assault-style weapons from 18 to 21.

“How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden asked in a televised address to the nation a week after the Texas shootings and another recent attack in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman shot and killed four people and himself at a medical office. 

“This time we have to take the time to do something,” Biden said, calling out the Senate, where 10 Republican votes would be needed to pass legislation.

Despite Biden’s impassioned pleas, any major action by Congress remains a long shot. 

Late Wednesday, House lawmakers voted to raise from 18 to 21 the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles and ban the sale of large-capacity magazines, following a day of poignant testimony from survivors of mass shootings, including a fourth-grader, a mother taking care of her wounded son and parents who lost a 10-year-old daughter.

The House bill is part of a package of gun reform measures that also would clamp down on gun trafficking, ban bump stocks and require safe storage of firearms. It passed 223-204, largely on a party-line vote.

The vote came after a full and emotional push from advocates — even actor Matthew McConaughey —  who urged Congress to tighten the nation's gun laws after massacres in Buffalo, New York and Texas.

The bill, known as the Protecting Our Kids Act, heads to the Senate where it's not expected to pass because Republicans have enough votes to block gun legislation.

A bipartisan group of senators is negotiating a narrower gun-control package than House Democrats, focusing on red-flag laws, mental health and school safety. 

Lawmakers are facing mounting pressure to respond to gun violence, but few believe anything beyond modest gun reforms has a chance of passing.

Sen. Rick Scott, during a May 31 interview on the Hugh Hewitt podcast, talked about possible legislation in Washington to curb gun violence. As Florida governor in 2018, he steered the Republican-majority Legislature to make significant changes to state laws following the Parkland mass shooting. 

When asked about the 2018 decision to raise the age to purchase weapons from 18 to 21, Scott said he’s a longstanding Second Amendment supporter but that the buying age can be raised. 

"We've got some very responsible 18-year-olds, and then we've got some irresponsible 18-year-olds,” he said. 

He also said those with mental illness cannot be buying weapons: “I’ll work with anybody to make sure no one’s gun rights are taken away, but if you’re threatening harm to yourself or somebody else, you’ve got mental illness, come on. You can’t have access to a gun.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for re-election, has come under pressure from Democrats and activists for stricter gun laws. He, however, has long been an ardent backer of the Second Amendment and gun rights supporters. He's also been a top recipient of campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. 

Like Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rubio favors legislating enhancing school security over gun control measures. He and Scott co-sponsored a bill that would create a federal clearinghouse for educational leaders and law enforcement agencies to improve school security techniques.

"If changes to our laws is a response to the latest horrific tragedy, then it should be changes that could have prevented that tragedy," Rubio said this week.

Rubio, meanwhile, is locked into a pitched midterm election battle against Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a longtime law enforcement veteran in Florida.

Florida Democrats see Rubio's record on gun laws as a vulnerability ahead of November. They accuse Rubio — who got a A+ National Rifle Association Rating in 2016 — of breaking several promises to support gun violence legislation after the Parkland massacre.

“Marco Rubio told Floridians that he would support commonsense measures to keep them safe from gun violence. But time and again, he’s chosen the gun lobby over keeping his promises in the wake of tragic mass shootings,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Grant Fox in a statement issued Thursday.

Rubio’s Senate staff rejected Democrat’s attacks, noting the senator had sponsored several bills to improve school safety and secured funding, too.

In February, Rubio joined with other senators, including Scott, to re-introduce the bipartisan “Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act.” It offers states federal funds to push them to adopt laws similar to Florida’s “risk protection orders.” The Florida law gives law enforcement the authority to stop anyone who may pose a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing firearms.

Rubio first introduced it following the tragedy in Parkland. His office also said that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last month — days after the Texas shooting — blocked a school safety bill that was named after Parkland, Florida, shooting victims Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter. The bill, which Rubio co-sponsored, would require the Department of Homeland Security to create a federal clearinghouse on “school safety best practices.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Schumer objected to the bill, saying “hardening schools would have done nothing to prevent this [Texas] shooting.” He said the shooter got past guards and police officers at the school.

In 2018, following the Parkland shooting, Rubio got $100 million in federal funds for the “Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act.” It directs the Justice Department to distribute grants cities and states to help bolster school violence prevention programs.

― The Associated Press and USA Today contributed to this report.