About 20 miles from the school where 17 people were shot and killed last week, hundreds gathered in downtown Delray Beach Monday evening to hear the emotional pleas of children who survived the massacre — the latest in a wave of local protests calling for gun control.
As was the case with other recent protests, teenagers who lived through the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland commanded the conversation, calling on elected leaders to set aside partisanship and strengthen gun laws.
COVERAGE: Parkland school shooting
“Here’s what you can’t do at the age of 18: Rent a car, buy alcohol, adopt a child, run for president, or supervise a learner driver,” said Adam Alhanti, 17, a Douglas student who hid in a closet with dozens of classmates during the shooting. “But I’ll tell you what you can do: Purchase a weapon of war with barely any consideration of who you are or what you plan to use it for.”
The two- hour rally was held outside City Hall, just a block north of Atlantic Avenue. Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein helped organizers cut through red tape and coordinate the demonstration in a busy area on short notice.
“People aren’t listening and I think it’s a big part of our job to give people forums and the opportunity to be heard,” said Glickstein, a Democrat.
The fallout of the Douglas shooting Wednesday, in which former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire indiscriminately with an AR-15 rifle into a freshman building before fleeing and later being taken into police custody, has propelled a movement among local teenagers. Some of the survivors coined the “#NeverAgain” movement on social media, with several now-viral posts.
Others have spoken at public rallies to advocate for gun reform in the hopes that the mantra “enough is enough” rings true.
“It’s hard to know whether that palpable anger and angst and call-to-action that I see in teenagers here is similar to what happened to other schools that eventually fades. I hope that’s not the case,” Glickstein said.
The trend has spread to area schools, with a high school in Broward County and another west of Boca Raton among sites of walk-out protests led by students.
Darren Levine, a teacher at Douglas High, said the students are “really propelling this movement. They can change the world.”
Some of the teenagers, fueled by support from the crowd, called out Florida politicians who have accepted donations from the National Rifle Association.
“Are you for taking steps to save us or are you for taking NRA blood money?” said Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old Douglas shooting survivor. The chant “‘Rubio has got to go” — referencing Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — was repeated throughout the evening.
Democratic elected officials — including U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay — spoke at the Delray Beach demonstration, echoing area youth in calling for Republican leaders to cooperate on comprehensive gun reform.
“I’ve heard some politicians say it’s too complicated to fix,” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel said of gun-control legislation. “Are you kidding me?”
Both the elected leaders and student speakers called for universal background checks and limitations on access to assault rifles.
A point of frustration for many who attended the rally was the troubled shooter’s access to the AR-15-style, semi-automatic rifle used in the massacre. Cruz legally purchased the rifle a year ago from a Broward County gun dealer, law enforcement officials said.
Cruz was old enough to buy an assault rifle but not to buy a handgun. Federal gun law prohibits adults under 21 from buying handguns but allows purchases by those 18 and older of rifles and long guns as well as ammunition for them.
Diego Pfeiffer, a 17-year-old Douglas student, called on the gun debate to end and legislation to begin.
“Nobody is right. Nobody is wrong,” Pfeiffer said. “We just want to save children’s lives, people!”