Emotional crowd at Fort Lauderdale rally demands gun restrictions – Sun Sentinel


Waves of sadness, anger and, occasionally, hope washed through a large crowd that gathered Saturday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale to push for tightening state and national gun laws in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

In the crowd, people expressed their emotions with cheers and boos. From the lectern, elected officials and school leaders delivered powerful speeches.

But the most poignant remarks came from several Stoneman Douglas students and a teacher who described their anguish and anger — and vowed not to rest until gun laws are changed.

Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr said her world was upended on Wednesday afternoon. Before then, she was thinking about things like what kind of flowers people would be getting on Valentine’s Day. Since then, “my main concerns are funerals, gun control and am I going to be shot.”

Tarr said she was appalled that shooter Nikolas Cruz “was able to legally purchase that AR-15 and come into my school and slaughter 17 people. … Because of the systematic failure of our government on every level people are dying every day.

“This will not be forgotten. We will not be silenced,” she vowed. “We will make a change.”

Emma Gonzalez choked back tears as she remembered the students and teachers who died – then expressed anger that the massacre could happen and at the response from some political leaders.

“If all our government can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change,” she said. “We don’t need thoughts and prayers. We need gun control.”

Melissa Falkowski, who teaches newspaper, English and creative writing at Stoneman Douglas, said she’s made it her mission to go on TV and talk to anyone who will listen. “The country wants gun reform, and they refuse to talk about it,” she said.

The message was echoed from the microphone by Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union; School Board members Robin Bartleman and Laurie Rich Levinson; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie; and a large contingent of elected officials, all of whom were Democrats.

Speaker after speaker said they wanted action on guns from lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to control easy access to the kinds of assault weapon used in the Stoneman Douglas massacre and other mass shootings.

“We need to turn our anger, our frustration, our rage into action,” Runcie said.

“People don’t need automatic rifles,” he said. “AR 15 is not a recreational item.”

Runcie said people concerned about the issue need to take those concerns to the ballot box. “We’ve got to vote. We’ve got to vote. We’ve got to vote,” he said. “If there’s no vote, this is just going to be a bunch of noise.”

The crowd was more visceral in a repeated chant. “Vote them out.”

State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward Democrat who organized the event, said it wasn’t intended to be political. But it was permeated with politics — from what ails the current system to what might effect change.

The gun lobby, especially the National Rifle Association, was repeatedly vilified from the lectern and the audience. The NRA is enormously powerful politically, and it is unyielding in its opposition to gun regulation.

Farmer decried what he said was the “stranglehold the NRA has on Tallahassee, Washington, D.C., and too many legislators.” When Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, a former Florida Senate Democratic leader, said her grade as a state lawmaker from the NRA was F-minus, the crowd roared in approval of Rich.

Gonzalez faulted politicians who benefit from NRA political spending, and said if she ever got a chance to speak to President Donald Trump she’d press him on his support from the NRA and opposition to gun regulations. “To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you,” she said.

Farmer said discussion of gun regulation has been “silenced in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., for far too long.”

Coral Springs Commissioner Dan Daley, a Stoneman Douglas graduate, condemned what he described as Florida’s status as the “gunshine state.”

And Broward Mayor Beam Furr, a former school librarian, demanded to know, “When did we decide that we love our guns more than we love our children? I want to know what ballot that was on.”

Furr said citizens and political leaders have been “convinced by arms dealers” that everyone has a right to a gun. “The NRA and special interests have sold us a bill of goods that we are paying for with our children’s lives,” he said.

Carla Spalding wasn’t convinced. “The guns didn’t kill people. The people kill people,” Spalding said. “I still believe our guns are our right. We shouldn’t take guns away.”

Spalding is one of three Republicans seeking her party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and watched part of the rally from the sidelines. She said she’d like to see more metal detectors at schools, more police, and improved mental health care before any discussion of gun restrictions.

Thousands of people packed the courtyard at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale and the sidewalk in front. Most stood for hours, with few leaving even as the event passed its scheduled ending time after two hours. Many were connected with the schools, either as students, teachers or retired teachers.

“Unlike what our fearless leaders are saying, the time to speak is now,” said Debby Miller of Davie. “People are done. Change needs to happen.”

Miller, who teaches at Beachside Montessori Village, a public school in Hollywood, said she tried to convince her students the day after the Stoneman Douglas massacre that they could all fit in the bathroom if they needed to hide. “The kids should not be afraid to go to school. My husband should not have to check in with me eight times a day because we’re both a mess.”

Retired teacher Kevin Jarrell of Fort Lauderdale said no one needs to own an assault rifle. “As everyday citizens, we can say: ban assault weapons,” he said. The crowd shows people who feel that way have “political clout.”

The youngest rallygoers were convinced. “Now is the time to do something. We’re here to make change,” said David Morales, 17, of Coconut Creek. “This cannot happen again.”

Alexis Michael, 17 a Stoneman Douglas student who lives in Coral Springs, said she was out sick on Wednesday when the massacre took place. “Something needs to change,” she said. “If we don’t do anything, than this will continue to happen.”

And Ingrid Lechuga, 13, of Weston, said, “If the adults aren’t going to listen, the children will make them listen.”

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