By: (Reuters) Hundreds of people including teenage survivors of last week's deadly Florida high school mass shooting poured into the state capital Tallahassee on Wednesday demanding that lawmakers limit sales of assault rifles.
Some wore T-shirts and carried signs reading "We call B.S.," one of the slogans of the movement started by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and educators were slain by a gunman with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle in the second-deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school.
The Feb. 14 massacre, the latest in a long series of deadly U.S. school shootings, stirred the nation's long-running debate about gun rights and public safety, prompting officials from state lawmakers to U.S. President Donald Trump to consider new action.
Investigators said the assault was carried out by 19-year-old former Stoneman student Nikolas Cruz, who purchased an AR-15 nearly a year ago. Police charged Cruz, who had been kicked out of the school due to disciplinary problems, with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
"Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle before he was able to buy a beer," said Laurenzo Prado, a Stoneman junior, referring to a Florida law that allows people as young as 18 to buy assault weapons. "The laws of the country have failed."
Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee said they would consider raising the age limit to 21, the same standard for handguns and alcohol, though the state Senate on Wednesday opted not to take up a gun control measure.
Florida Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, met with students and declined to answer their questions on whether he would support any specific gun control measures.
"That's an issue we're going to look at as we work to develop legislation," he said.
The legislative session wraps up on March 9.
Students scattered across the United States walked out of classes in sympathy protests. Hundreds of teens from the Washington suburbs gathered at the White House, where Trump was scheduled to meet with families of school shooting victims and survivors.
"I came out here because I don't feel safe in my school," said Allyson Zadravec, 15, of Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. "I want to make sure that everyone who can do something about it hears that I don’t feel safe in my school.”
Similar walkouts were held or planned in Florida, Phoenix, Arizona; Pittsburgh and Chicago, according to witnesses and local news media accounts.
While Stoneham faculty joined their students in the Tallahassee rally, other planned protests ran into opposition from school officials.
The superintendent of a Texas school district said any students who took part in a walkout would be suspended for three days, regardless of parental permission.
"We will discipline no matter if it is one, 50, or 500 students involved," said Curtis Rhodes, who heads the Needville Independent School District, about 20 miles (30 km) south of Houston, in a statement on the district's Facebook page.
The White House meeting comes a day after Trump said his administration would take steps to ban bump stocks, an accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute. A spokeswoman said the administration was open to the idea of national age limits on sales of assault rifles.
Under pressure after Parkland, Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to quickly complete a proposed rule that would treat "bump stocks" as machine guns, which could effectively outlaw them in the United States.
Last October, a retired real estate investor and high-stakes gambler used multiple assault rifles equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people at a Las Vegas outdoor concert, the deadliest attack by a single gunman in U.S. history. Bump stocks have not played a prominent role in other recent U.S. mass shootings.
Trump's support for any tightening of gun laws would mark a change for the Republican, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The NRA opposes an outright ban on bump stocks but has said it would be open to restrictions on the devices.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged Trump to back legislation, instead of a regulation, on bump stocks.
"The only way to close this loophole permanently is legislation," Schumer said.
The NRA has agreed to participate in a televised CNN town hall on guns later Wednesday, the network said. NRA officials did not respond to requests for comment.
In the Florida state capital, a group attempted to deliver a petition to Republican Governor Rick Scott's office but was turned away.
"What happened in Parkland is a tragedy but a preventable tragedy," said Florida State University student Elianna Cooper, 19, who joined the lobbying effort. "There are things our elected officials can be doing, but they refuse to have a conversation." (Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson in Parkland, Florida, Keith Coffman in Denver and Jeff Mason, Rick Cowan, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jeffrey Benkoe)