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

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)

Students at the Florida school where 17 people died last week said Sunday they will organize nationwide marches for gun control next month and try to create a “badge of shame” for politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups.

“We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around,” Cameron Kasky said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has been part of an outpouring of anger from students who survived the shooting, many of whom have publicly blamed President Trump and NRA-supported politicians for creating the conditions that led to the shooting.

“This is about us begging for our lives; this isn’t about the GOP, this isn’t about the Democrats, this is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral,” Kasky said.

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)

An NRA spokeswoman declined to comment.

Another student, David Hogg, criticized Trump for suggesting in a tweet Saturday night that Democrats had let them down by failing to pass gun-control legislation when they held Congress.

“We’ve seen a government shutdown, we’ve seen tax reform, but nothing to save our children’s lives,’’ Hogg said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Are you kidding me? You think now is the time to focus on the past and not the future to prevent the deaths of thousands of other children? You sicken me.”

Trump also tweeted Saturday night that it was “not acceptable” that the FBI failed to stop the Parkland shooting — arguing the agency was too focused on looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and should get “back to basics.”

David Hogg survived the Florida shooting and is demanding that Congress take action to stop it from happening again. (Video: Whitney Shefte, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

Carly Novell, a student who hid in a closet for two hours during the attack, tweeted an angry response to the president: “You know what isn’t acceptable? Blaming everyone but the shooter and the lack of gun control in our country. You even blamed the students. We did report him; we tried. But how were we supposed to know what would happen? Your lack of sympathy proves how pitiful of a person you are.”

The students at Florida’s Douglas High are amazing communicators. That could save lives.

One person who spoke to Trump over the weekend said the president had closely watched the students’ television appearances and talked about the issue with guests at his Mar-a-Lago Club in nearby Palm Beach. “He knows he has to do something,’’ said another person who has spoken with Trump about the issue, who said the president seemed open to stricter gun control but had not decided what it would look like.

Michael Udine, a county commissioner in Broward County, which includes Parkland, said he told the president Saturday that the students “are extremely motivated and well spoken and they are going to be demanding change in Washington and Tallahassee. . . . The president said, ‘Well, I would welcome that.’­ ”

Udine said Trump was thoughtful on the call and repeatedly expressed his condolences.

“Any politician who is coming to just talk or just to give their thoughts and prayers, that’s not needed,” Udine said. “Thoughts and prayers are not good enough anymore.”

The students said they are organizing “March for Our Lives” rallies in Washington and other major U.S. cities on March 24 to demand action on curbing gun violence.

About 20 students have launched “Never Again MSD,” a group that will push for changes in gun laws. The rallies are being planned with help from various groups, including organizers of the Women’s March, and have gained support from several prominent Democrats and gun-control groups, according to Alex Wind, one of the student organizers.

Another student, Emma Gonzalez, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the students want to talk to political leaders, including Trump, about gun control.

“We want to give them an opportunity to be on the right side of this,” Gonzalez said.

The students appeared on multiple Sunday morning political shows to discuss their views and goals in the wake of the shooting and made clear they are going to target lawmakers up for election this year who they view as standing against their cause.

“At this point, I don’t even know if the adults in power who are funded by the NRA, I don’t think we need them anymore, because they are going to be gone by the midterm election,” Gonzalez said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “There’s barely any time for them to save their skins, and if they don’t turn around right now and state their open support for this movement, they’re going to be left behind because you’re either with us or you’re against us at this point.”

While the student activists repeatedly expressed optimism and hope for constructive conversations and changes to U.S. gun laws, the politicians who appeared on Sunday’s shows expressed great skepticism that anything would change soon.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), told CBS that he doubted anything will happen until voters force changes.

“I am not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress that we’re going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress,” he said.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said the issue raised by the Florida shooting is that the FBI could have prevented the shooting and added he thought Congress “will get something done this year” on the gun background check system.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said the students “are absolutely right when they say that politicians have not been responding to any of this” and blamed congressional dysfunction.

Kasich, speaking on CNN, said gun rights advocates should consider “common-sense” regulations.

“Would you feel as though your Second Amendment rights would be eroded because you couldn’t buy a goddarn AR-15?’’ he said. “These are things that have to be looked at, and action has to be taken.”

Kasich said he doubted Congress would take any actions but said he held out hope that state and local legislatures might.

Tory Newmyer, Lisa Rein and Wesley Lowery contributed to this report.