The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Parkland massacre sparked a renewed debate over gun control. Here’s what happens next.

Grieving students, friends and family gathered outside of the Federal District Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale to demand stricter gun control laws. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

As South Florida continues mourning the victims of last week’s school shooting, students transformed into activists and public officials alike are preparing for days of high-profile events highlighting the renewed debate over gun control and school safety.

These events, stretching from an arena in South Florida to the White House, have put a glaring spotlight on the central question that has been asked over and over since this latest mass shooting left 17 people dead: What can be done to stop it from happening again?

The students who survived the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have repeatedly made clear that they view guns as the central problem. Public officials such as Gov. Rick Scott (R) have stressed the need to keep firearms away from people with mental health issues and pledged to work on increasing safety at schools.

Fla. school shooting creates urgent push for gun control, bipartisan calls for change

After previous mass shootings, bipartisan action has been elusive, even following some of the deadliest events in modern American history. The massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 prompted a failed effort to expand background checks for guns or ban certain rifles. The Las Vegas shooting last year that left 58 dead and hundreds injured gave way to a push against bump stocks, devices that let rifles fire more rapidly, but Congress has not acted on the matter.

President Trump announced Tuesday afternoon that he had signed a memorandum directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to change regulations to ban bump stocks, saying he expected “that these critical regulations will be finalized … very soon.”

This order related to devices that entered the spotlight after Las Vegas but did not appear to be used in the Parkland massacre. Speaking about school shootings, Trump said: “We can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children.”

Trump recommended outlawing bump stocks. Here’s what they are.

It is unclear whether the aftermath of the Parkland massacre — in which 14 students and three faculty members were gunned down at a suburban high school on Valentine’s Day — will be different than prior shootings in prompting longer-term change. But already, the level of anger and furious activity following that shooting has taken on a different tenor than what came after previous attacks. Almost immediately, survivors and those in their community began calling for action.

Students quickly began speaking out at rallies and making their cases in national media interviews, decrying the National Rifle Association and pledging to organize, even as they face a grueling marathon of funeral after funeral. They have asked public officials, including Trump, to hear them out about stronger gun control laws.

“We want to give them an opportunity to be on the right side of this,” Emma Gonzalez, a Stoneman Douglas senior, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Florida students plead with Congress: It’s about the guns

Amid the outcry, state lawmakers are weighing measures that would raise the legal age of possession of an assault rifle to 21 in Florida, from the current age of 18, and add a three-day waiting period for all rifle purchases.

Scott will meet with state and local leaders on Tuesday in Tallahassee, the capital, a day before about 100 Stoneman Douglas students plan to head to the city to rally and speak with elected officials. Their plans stretch beyond this week, as students from Stoneman Douglas also have announced a gun safety march on Washington on March 24.

Stoneman Douglas remains closed, and the county says staff members are expected to return to school Friday, where support services will be available. The school system says it hopes to resume classes Feb. 27, nearly two weeks after the massacre, although it is expected that the building where the rampage occurred will remain closed and probably will be demolished.

Some students have pledged not to return to class until something changes, said Alex Wind, 17, a Stoneman Douglas junior and one of the organizers of “Never Again MSD,” a group whose mission is to prevent similar attacks.

“How are we supposed to feel safe again?” Wind said. “What if this happens again? What if this happens in any other school? How are we supposed to know and feel safe in those exact hallways where the shooting happened if nothing changes?”

Trump, who was in South Florida over the long holiday weekend and visited Friday with some victims of the shooting and law enforcement officials, is expected to meet with students and teachers on Wednesday at the White House and then state and local officials on Thursday.

The White House said he will meet with students, teachers and parents from Parkland, local school districts and those affected by past school shootings in Columbine, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., as well as with law enforcement officials and local leaders.

CNN has announced plans to host a town hall meeting airing Wednesday night with Stoneman Douglas students, parents and members of the community. The network announced that Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) of Florida will attend; Trump and Scott both declined invitations.

The lives lost in the Parkland massacre

Most Americans agree that Congress and Trump are not doing enough to prevent mass shootings in the country, following the rampages that have occurred at schools, churches and outdoor concerts, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted after the most recent massacre.

Americans also agree that the massacre in Parkland could have been prevented with stricter gun control laws and improved treatment for mental health issues, the poll found.

Since the shooting, authorities have faced intense criticism over the repeated red flags missed in the months and years before police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire inside his former high school. (Police say Cruz later confessed, and his lawyers do not contest his guilt.)

The FBI said last week that it failed to investigate a tip just weeks before the shooting warning that Cruz could potentially carry out a school shooting, which was only the latest warning sign that came to the attention of local, state and federal authorities.

‘People are angry’: Pain turns political in Parkland after school shooting

More Americans believe the mass shootings that periodically transform this country’s public spaces into war zones reflect problems finding and treating people with mental health issues, the poll found.

More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) believe that better mental health efforts could have prevented the Florida massacre, while more than half of Americans (58 percent) say stricter gun control laws could have stopped it. A slim majority (51 percent) of Americans think the shooting could not have been prevented by allowing teachers to carry guns, an idea mentioned in an interview with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Cruz had repeatedly come to the attention of police, school officials and mental-health authorities, according to state reports, school records and public officials.

"Students are dying. Children are dying," said Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Tyra Hemans. (Video: Whitney Shefte, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigated Cruz’s home life in 2016 but closed the inquiry after determining that his “final level of risk is low,” despite learning that the teenager had behavioral struggles and was planning to buy a gun, according to an investigative report.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said police had received about 20 calls for service related to Cruz in recent years. In school, Cruz’s issues stretched back years, as middle and high school teachers recognized his problems and repeatedly sought counseling for him, called social workers and sent him to another school for emotionally disturbed youth, according to disciplinary records.

Students of the Florida school where 17 people died last week announced nationwide marches for gun control on March 24. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Still, none of that was able to stop Cruz from buying numerous guns, officials say. Cruz had purchased at least 10 firearms, including a variant of an AK-47, according a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

All of the guns found were rifles and shotguns, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Authorities have not recovered any handguns, the official said, noting that Cruz was legally allowed to buy the rifles but not handguns because he was not yet 21.

According to the official, every gun that has been traced so far was purchased legally by Cruz.

“At no point was he prohibited from possessing firearms based on his criminal history and background check,” the official said.

Jenna Johnson in Washington and Wesley Lowery in Parkland contributed to this report, which has been updated since it was first published at 9:34 a.m. 

Further reading:

He survived the Florida school shooting. He vows not to return to classes until gun laws change.