On March 23, 2023, March for Our Lives, the student-based organization founded in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, hosted a rally at the Florida Capitol in protest of several of Florida’s firearm policies, particularly a recent bill, House Bill 543, which allows permitless concealed carry.
The rally took place from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. next to the Florida Historic Capitol, and drew supporters from organizations including March for Our Lives, Team Enough, Moms Demand Action, Orange Ribbons for Jaime and People Power for Florida. Speakers included March for Our Lives co-founder and board member David Hogg, National Education Association President Rebecca S. Pringle, American Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer Fedrick C. Ingram, former Florida House Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and Florida House Representative Anna V. Eskamani.
Ralliers who stood in solidarity behind the speakers held signs with messages including “human rights trump gun rights,” “protect kids not guns” and “no unlicensed concealed weapons,” including one that said “your actions have consequences… the blood is on your hands” next to a caricature of Governor Ron DeSantis.
Speakers focused primarily on opposition to HB 543, while also reminiscing on the progress made in the five years since the first March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018, which took place in major cities across the United States, including Tallahassee.
Hogg, who has served as a figurehead of the organization since surviving the shooting at his Parkland high school in 2018, told a story of receiving a death threat in the mail directed towards his mother, in which the perpetrator was disarmed via legislation passed in response to the shooting in Parkland.
“F— with the NRA, and you will be DOA. That stands for dead on arrival. Using the law that we passed after Parkland, we got that individual disarmed. That law has now been used over 9,000 times in the state of Florida,” he said.
Supporters and ralliers frequently voiced cheers and agreements to the speeches, often wincing in discomfort to personal anecdotes told by survivors.
“We are fighting for a Florida where my classmate, seventeen-year-old Joaquin Oliver, who moved to America specifically to flee violence in Venezuela, gets to live his American dream — his family’s American dream — and not have it shattered by an AR-15,” Hogg went on to say, pulling tears from several in the crowd.
In addition to speakers, the rally also featured a performance by Tampa-based drag queen Freya Rose Young, who sought to represent the impact of gun violence on queer youth. Furthermore, ralliers were welcomed to participate in writing letters to their representatives.
HB 543 has since passed in the House, and its Senate counterpart, SB 150, is scheduled to be heard on April 9. Gov. DeSantis has said that he plans to sign the bill into law if it passes the Senate.
Following the rally, several organizers from March for Our Lives and Team Enough dropped in to the legislative session to listen to deliberation and amendments being made. Given the Republican supermajority, most Democrats and activists who oppose the bill anticipated its passage, but took issue with the consistent failure of amendments proposed by Democratic House members.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, who spoke at the rally, called these amendments “basic, foundational, bi-partisan, common sense policies.” She, among other House Democrats, filed amendments ranging from suicide prevention policies involving voluntary do-not-sell lists to proposing specificities for firearm storage. Nearly all proposed amendments pertaining to changes or additions in policy failed. Those that passed primarily contained minor additions to language for symbolic reasons, such as one by Rep. Hunschofsky that recognized Parkland victims Chris Hixon and Scott Beigel in the title of a program.
“At the end of the day I don’t see the harm in this type of amendment if it can save someone’s life,” said Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby on the House floor, referencing Rep. Eskamani’s suicide prevention amendment.
Those who support the bill and its policies have largely cited the Second Amendment in its defense, including its sponsor, Rep. Chuck Brannan, who said the bill “simply allows Floridians to conceal carry without red tape and expense.”
The bill’s opposers cite concerns relating to its alleged statistical likelihood to contribute to an increase in gun violence, as well as its general high controversy.
“States that have passed similar bills have seen a sharp increase in gun violence deaths within three years of introducing the bill,” said Olivia Soloman, an organizer with March for Our Lives.