MIAMI (Reuters) - Student survivors of a mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school called for gun restrictions on Saturday during an angry and somber rally, but attendees at a nearby gun show said firearms could not be blamed for the massacre.
Wednesday’s shooting in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland fueled the long-running U.S. debate between supporters of tougher controls on firearms and advocates for gun rights, which are protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Both sides of the dispute were on display on Saturday.
Many at a rally in Fort Lauderdale that was organized to demand tougher gun laws rejected comments by U.S. President Donald Trump and others that mental illness was the main factor behind the slaughter at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” Emma Gonzalez, an 18-year-old student at the school, told hundreds demonstrators gathered on the steps of a federal building. The shooter “wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife!” she yelled, shedding tears as the crowd cheered her on.
Gonzalez criticized Trump for overturning a measure implemented by former President Barack Obama that required extra scrutiny of some gun buyers with a history of mental illness. She also condemned the National Rifle Association, which opposes laws that it says violate gun owners’ rights.
“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call B.S.” Gonzalez said.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student who was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has been charged with 17 counts of murder. Police said he was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple magazines of ammunition.
Cruz legally purchased the murder weapon from a licensed dealer in Coral Springs, Florida, the Broward County sheriff said.
Representatives for the White House and the NRA did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On Friday, Trump visited a Florida hospital and met with people wounded in the shooting as well as first responders.
Ryan Deitsch, 18, was among those locked in a classroom closet as the shooter stalked the school’s corridors.
“The least lawmakers can do is vote on something,” Deitsch said in an interview at the rally, referring to tighter gun controls. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
The rally coincided with a gun show attended by hundreds of people about 40 miles (64 km) away at the Dade County fairgrounds. Despite calls for the show to be canceled, there were more than $5 million worth of guns and accessories on display, organizers said, including dozens of assault-style rifles.
Jorge Fernandez, a former police officer and show manager, said Florida Gun Shows, which runs more than 40 shows across the state, decided against canceling due to financial concerns.
Joe Arrington, 29, a former law enforcement officer, was there with his infant daughter in his arms and a rifle over his shoulder. He said more background checks are needed on gun buyers, but that more regulation would not have stopped the Parkland massacre.
“I don’t believe that any law that they would have added would have deterred what happened,” Arrington said. “I think a lot of agencies didn’t do their job necessarily like they were supposed to.”
The FBI has come under intense criticism after it said on Friday that it failed to act on a warning about Cruz that was called in to a tip line on Jan. 5. The caller provided information about Cruz’s “desire to kill people ... as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” the FBI said.
Adolfo David Ginarte, 30, a hotel conference service manager, was checking out some of the more than 140 vendors at the gun show. He called it “un-American” for anyone to call for the show to be canceled in the wake of the shooting.
“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” he said. “Things are going to happen. Life is going to go forward. What happens if I’m offended by a movie? Are they going to cancel the movie? This isn’t the first time and unfortunately it’s not going to be the last time.”
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler