Many of the students who survived a horrific February 14 high school shooting in Florida have become activists demanding changes to US gun laws. Their campaign could well mark a turning point for an issue that has left previous generations at a partisan impasse. FRANCE 24 went to meet some of the leaders of this growing movement.
On February 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida, with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle. He opened fire and shot dead 17 of his fellow students and teachers. The students who survived the shooting have launched the "Never Again" movement in a bid to change US gun laws. They want Parkland to be the last mass shooting in a US school.
Recent US history has been tragically punctuated by several mass shootings at schools, but none have led to major changes in gun laws: Columbine (12 students and a teacher killed in 1999), Virginia Tech (33 dead in 2007) and Sandy Hook (27 deaths in 2012).
The state of Florida, home to 21 million people, holds the US record for the number of firearms licenses: more than 2 million. The only requirement to buy a gun in the state is to have a clean criminal record.
America's attitude toward gun control is complicated by the fact that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." For many conservatives and the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby, this guarantees the unfettered right to own a gun. Mass shootings have not changed the status quo; even the tears shed by former president Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook massacre failed to move the legislators in Congress.
But the Parkland high school students may have kicked off an era of change. Tyra Hermans is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In memory of her slain friend Joaquin, she now devotes all of her time to the Never Again movement by taking part in marches, demonstrations and speeches in front of the Capitol Building in Washington. The young woman has promised herself that this shooting will be the last in an American high school. When we meet them, these Parkland youths appear traumatised but determined: They have sworn they will succeed where other generations have failed.
Just like the #MeToo hashtag, the #NeverAgain movement is now gaining nationwide traction. All over social media, millions of messages of support are being posted. And attitudes may be shifting. Even President Donald Trump, a strong defender of gun rights, has recently said he is open to making some concessions.
US students are planning a March for Our Lives rally calling for changes to gun legislation on March 24 in Washington, DC.