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Survivors of the Florida attack have grown up in a world where school shootings are the norm, and they want a different future
Amanda Holpuch in New York
Unsure whether he would be a victim or survivor of the mass shooting taking place outside his Florida classroom, 14-year-old Aidan Minoff sent an eight-word tweet.
“I am in a school shooting right now … ” Aidan said, before the world knew the day would end with 17 students and teachers dead.
Tens of thousands of people locked onto Aidan’s feed for the next 86 minutes, where he posted messages from the linoleum floor of his classroom, amid a forest of metal desk legs.
When the carnage ended, Aidan, and other teenagers who survived the attack, faced the cold lens of news cameras, not knowing the fate of all their friends and teachers, but they were sure about one thing.
Solutions must be found to tackle US gun violence crisis. “How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner, who survived the shooting, told CNN.
“We’re children,” David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor, said. “You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together. Come over your politics and get something done.”
Amid the ritual cycle of despair of congressional inaction on gun violence, these powerful young voices have increased the pressure on politicians only offering “thoughts and prayers”.
There is talk of the post-Columbine generation.
These Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school students were all born shortly after the 1999 shooting at Columbine high school in Colorado – which is no longer in the top 10 most fatal mass shootings in the US. They’ve lived through active-shooter drills at school and have seen the introduction of bullet-proof backpacks in child-friendly bright colors and funky patterns. They have instant access on the internet to the brutal facts and footage of mass shootings in the US – the five most deadly of which took place in the 10-year period from 2007 to 2017.
They have also seen lawmakers fail to stop this from happening even after 192 people and five perpetrators were killed in those five shootings at a music festival, nightclub, church, university and elementary school.
At a federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday afternoon, Stoneman Douglas students took the stage at an anti-gun rally.
Teenager Emma Gonzalez delivered an impassioned speech, holding back tears and challenging the argument that something other than stricter gun laws could have prevented the attack.
“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” said Gonzalez. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.”
The failure of US gun laws was obvious when it emerged on Friday that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who was named as the gunman and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, had legally bought the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifleand ammunition used in the shooting at a tactical supply store in Coral Springs after passing a background check. The FBI also admitted on Friday it failed to investigate a specific report in January that Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, could be plotting a school shooting.
And in the 48 hours following Cruz’s arrest on Wednesday, schools across the country cancelled class in response to copycat threats. Some students were arrested on suspicion of planning to carry out attacks.
During a funeral Friday for 18-year-old Meadow Pollack, her father looked at his daughter’s coffin and screamed as Florida’s governor Rick Scott and 1,000 others looked on. “Our kids should be safe,” Andrew Pollack said.
The Stoneman Douglas students have joined the more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools who have experienced a shooting on campus since Columbine, according to a Washington Post analysis. It is a conservative calculation that does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults.
Hogg, a student journalist, said he interviewed people while the shooting took place. “I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive,” he told the New York Times. “But I knew that if those videos survived, they would echo on and tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things, I hoped. And that would be my legacy.”
Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas high student, created a “Never Again” Facebook page for his peers and the community to press for action. About 50 students at a nearby high school walked-out in protest of the government’s failure to respond to gun violence on Friday.
On Sunday, a group of students from Stoneman Douglas high school announced they were planning a march on Washington DC on Saturday 24 March to demand action on guns. And a National Walk Out is planned for the 20th anniversary of Columbine on 20 April.
At South Broward high school, about 30 miles from Stoneman Douglas, student protesters held signs that said: “It could’ve been us.” and “Your silence is killing us.”
Student Ianna Seemungal, 17, said she participated in the protest because she was tired of not feeling safe. “We don’t deserve this,” she said. “We need to be safe. There’s nowhere to be safe. … We can’t even go to school.”
When the Huffington Post asked Ianna if she was worried about being punished for leaving class, she shrugged. “No,” Ianna said. “And if I do, it was worth it.”
When Donald Trump touched down in Florida on Friday night to meet with victims, first responders and doctors, students and the community continued to press for a response.
“I don’t want Trump to come but we want more gun safety,” said 18-year-old student Kevin Trejos. “It’s a dream. It hasn’t hit me yet.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) spent more than $30m in 2016 to support Trump’s presidential campaign. During the visit, Trump did not respond to a question about whether gun laws need to be changed.
While conservatives who oppose strict gun laws traditionally respond by offering “thought and prayers” and encouraging people to not politicize tragedies, student survivors held them to account in the days after the shooting.
The conservative Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren provided the routine response on Twitter, where she said: “Can the left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda?”
Carly Novell, a 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas high student, tweeted the cold truth of her experience back at Lahren.
“I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours,” Novell said. “It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”