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Staging walkouts and rallies, students and family members implore lawmakers to end gun bloodshed

As dozens of survivors from the Florida school shooting lobbied the Republican-led Florida legislature for tougher gun control, thousands across the country heeded a call to walk out of classes, massing at Florida’s state capitol, as well as the U.S. Capitol and White House, where President Trump held a listening session with shooting survivors and family members. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Calls for action after the school shooting in Florida.

    In Tallahassee and around the country today, students and supporters appealed for an end to the bloodshed.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • Protestor:

    What do we want?

  • Protestors:

    Change!

  • Protestor:

    When do we want it?

  • Protestors:

    Now!

  • William Brangham:

    The chants began as soon as about 100 of the school shooting survivors arrived at the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee today.

  • Protestors:

    Never again! Never again!

  • William Brangham:

    From there, they moved inside to lobby the Republican-run legislature for some stronger gun control.

  • Alfonso Calderon:

    Please, I beg and I demand that every single person in power who has the ability to change the fear that kids feel going back to school, that they do something.

  • Delaney Tarr:

    No longer can you take money from the NRA, no longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is that you want to do, because we are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action, demanding that you make a change.

  • William Brangham:

    The crowds outside the capitol grew to thousands for a midday rally. There, they heard an outpouring of anger and grief over the killing of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one week ago today.

  • Rachel Catania:

    How many more innocent people have to die before we make a change?

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Rachel Catania:

    A change is overdue. And we are the change. When children act like leaders and leaders act like children, you know something is about to change.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • William Brangham:

    These student activists had traveled more than 400 miles, from Parkland in South Florida, to press for a range of solutions. One student called for a ban on semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15 rifle used in the massacre.

  • Christine Yared:

    The only purpose of an assault weapon like this is to kill and to kill as many people as possible. The AR-15 is not a self-defense weapon. It is rightly so-called an assault weapon.

  • William Brangham:

     A day earlier, the Florida Statehouse voted against taking up a bill to ban assault weapons.

    Today, the Democrat who called for that bill to be debated made an impassioned plea for the students to keep up their fight.

  • Kionne McGhee:

    You are the cavalry we have been waiting for. So, to you, let’s do it!

  • William Brangham:

    Across the country, thousands of students heeded that call, walking out of classes and chanting slogans demanding tougher gun control.

    In Washington, D.C., hundreds massed outside the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Inside the executive mansion, President Trump held a listening session with high school students and teachers, among them, some who survived the Parkland attack, as well as others from school shootings at Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We’re going to be very strong on background checks. We will be doing very strong background checks, very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody.

  • William Brangham:

    The president heard emotional appeals from both students and parents in the group.

  • Samuel Zeif:

    How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How did we not stop it after Columbine, after Sandy Hook?

  • Andrew Pollack:

    It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it. And I’m pissed, because my daughter, I’m not going to see again.

  • William Brangham:

    Until now, the president has been a staunch supporter of gun rights. Last year, he signed a law that eliminated an Obama era regulation which made it harder for some mentally ill people to get guns. The rule said that anyone receiving Social Security benefits for mental illness and who had also been ruled incapable of handling their own finances would be blocked from purchasing weapons.

    The president signed the law reversing that rule last February. Mr. Trump has also repeatedly maintained his allegiance to the National Rifle Association.

    Last April, he addressed the NRA’s leadership forum in Atlanta.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.

  • William Brangham:

    The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that, during the 2016 election, the NRA spent $30 million to support Mr. Trump and oppose Hillary Clinton. During one of the presidential debates, candidate Trump argued that strict gun laws don’t actually reduce gun violence.

  • President Donald Trump:

    In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States, probably you could say by far, they have more gun violence than any other city.

  • William Brangham:

    But, yesterday, amid the outcry over Parkland, the president appeared to soften his stance.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.

  • William Brangham:

    Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein of California urged the president to support her legislation banning bump stocks and to encourage his fellow Republicans to stop blocking it.

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders also said the president is open to improving federal background checks and possibly setting a minimum age for buying AR-15-type rifles.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president also said today that letting trained school workers carry weapons, make attackers think twice and, in his words, solve the problem.

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