George Clooney gives US$500k to fund nationwide gun protests as shooting survivors prepare to march on Florida politicians
A group of students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week planned to travel 400 miles to Florida’s capital Tuesday to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and faculty last week.
The pupils plan to hold a rally Wednesday in hopes that it will put pressure on the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws, something some of the lawmakers said Monday they would consider.
That move came as film star George Clooney and his lawyer wife Amal offered to pay US$500,000 to help back nationwide marches expected to take place next month, including one to Washington on March 24.
School pupils across the country have vowed to exert pressure on Congress as the aftermath of the rampage resonates beyond Florida, with hundreds of protesters converging on Monday on a downtown Los Angeles park to demand tougher gun-safety measures.
Other pupils in a Boca Raton, Florida, school engaged in a mass walkout on Tuesday and began to make their way to Marjory Stoneman High School.
Further protests are planned for next month, and now have considerable financial backing in the form of the Clooneys, who announced on Tuesday that they would help fund the movement.
In a statement, George Clooney said: “Amal and I are so inspired by the courage and eloquence of these young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country.”
They added that the money would be donated in the name of their kids, Ella and Alexander, writing “Our children’s lives depend on it.”
For now, the Stoneman High School students are focused on taking their message to Florida’s politicians on Wednesday.
“I really think they are going to hear us out,” said Chris Grady, 19. He said he hopes the trip will lead to some “commonsense laws like rigorous background checks.”
The February 14 attack seemed to overcome the resistance of some in the state’s leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999.
However, there is still strong resistance by many in the party to any gun-control measures, leaving the fate of new restrictions unclear.
Senator Bill Galvano, a Republican and the incoming Florida Senate president, said the state Senate was preparing a package that would include raising the age to purchase any firearm to 21, creating a waiting period for purchasing any type of firearm, banning bump stocks that can allow semi-automatic guns to spray bullets quickly and creating gun-violence restraining orders.
The Parkland pupils planned to meet Wednesday with top legislative leaders, including Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
But their push to restrict guns might be a difficult task. Florida has a reputation for expanding – and not restricting – gun rights.
Negron sponsored a 2011 bill that Republican Governor Rick Scott signed into law that banned cities and counties from regulating gun and ammunition sales.
Authorities said suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion.
Police also were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. Cruz’s lawyers said there were many warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent. Yet he legally bought a semi-automatic rifle.
“We need to make sure everything is working and to learn from the experience,” Galvano said.
The Senate is also considering boosting spending on mental health programmes for schools and giving law-enforcement greater power to involuntarily hold someone considered a danger to themselves.
The body will also look at a proposal to deputise a teacher or someone else at school so they are authorised to have a gun.
Galvano said senators want to examine ways to protect schools that do not have resource officers – often armed law enforcement officers – on site.
Scott and the State House leaders also are considering possible changes to firearms rules, but have not given any details.
Scott planned meetings Tuesday on school safety, and said he would announce proposals on mental health issues later in the week.
Still, some Republicans questioned whether additional gun restrictions are the answer.
“I really don’t want to see this politicised into a gun debate,” Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley.
Referring to gun-control advocates, he said: “Sometimes I wish they were right, that this would fix it, but it won’t … We have a terrible problem with obesity, but we’re not banning forks and spoons.”
Democrats believe raising the age limit and creating a waiting period to buy rifles is not enough.
“That’s unacceptable. That’s a joke,” said Democratic Senator Gary Farmer of Broward County.
“I don’t see that as a restriction. It never should have been that an 18-year-old could buy an assault weapon. No Floridians should be able to buy an assault weapon.”
Cruz legally bought at least seven long guns, including an AK-47-style rifle he bought less than a month ago, a law enforcement official said Monday.
The official is familiar with the investigation but isn’t authorised to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal law allows those 18 and over to buy rifles, and Cruz passed background checks.
Cruz made his first appearance in court Monday. His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.
Since the attack, students from the school have become increasingly vocal in their demands for gun-control measures.
Many have pointed out politicians who take financial support from the National Rifle Association, and some have lashed out at President Donald Trump, saying he was busy blaming Democrats for failing to pass gun restrictions while taking no action of his own.
Trump said Monday that he was supportive of a bipartisan effort to strengthen federal background checks for gun purchases.
Also on Tuesday, pupils from several Florida high schools took to the streets in a show of solidarity with Stoneman students.
Video footage taken from television news helicopter crews showed several dozen students who walked out of West Boca Raton High School on Tuesday morning. The school is around 11 miles (17km) from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Several dozen more students gathered outside Florida’s Fort Lauderdale High School, holding signs with messages that included “our blood is on your hands.” On Monday, students at American Heritage High School held a similar protest.
Students are also calling for anti-gun violence demonstrations in Washington and other cities on March 24.
Organisers behind the anti-Trump Women’s March called for a 17-minute nationwide walkout by teachers and students on March 14, and a gun-control group was calling for a rally to ban assault weapons Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.