Survivors of the Florida school shooting have descended on the state legislature to deliver one overarching message on gun control: It is time for action.
The youngsters split into several groups to talk with representatives and state leaders about controlling firearms, the legislative process and mental health issues one week after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland area.
Some tearfully asked why civilians should be allowed to have weapons such as the AR-15, which was used in the attack.
When Florida's senate president Joe Negron heard the question, he did not directly answer, saying: "That's an issue that we're reviewing."
Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Ariana Ortega, 17, tells senators about her slain friend Carmen Schentrup, 16, before addressing legislation. Senate President Joe Negron responds.#ParklandStudentsSpeak pic.twitter.com/1Axt8Oia2W— Eliott C. McLaughlin (@ByEliott) February 21, 2018
When another representative said he supported raising the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 from 18, the students broke into applause.
The Florida senate opened its session in Tallahassee by showing pictures of all 17 victims in the attack.
"There are some really harrowing tales here," said Democratic senator Lauren Book of Broward County, who helped organise busloads of students who arrived at the Capitol building late on Tuesday night.
She stayed overnight with the students in Tallahassee's Civic Centre and said they stayed up until 5am, researching, writing and preparing to talk with politicians.
"It has been a very, very difficult, tough night. It's in those quiet moments that the reality of this stuff, without all the noise, sets in. In any given moment, there's tears. It's raw and it's there."
About 100 pupils from the high school made the 400-mile trip on three buses. They told the 500 students and parents waiting for them that they were fighting to protect all students.
Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior, said: "We're what's making the change. We're going to talk to these politicians. We're going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can't happen any more."
"I was in a closet, locked, for 4 hours with people who I would consider almost family, crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it is like to text my parents goodbye," student Alfonso Calderon says https://t.co/Nn2QjsRD5R pic.twitter.com/TSOAk7pnhg— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 21, 2018
Despite their enthusiasm and determination, the students and their supporters are not likely to get what they really want: a ban on AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles. Republican representatives are talking more seriously about some restrictions, but not a total ban.
Instead, they are discussing treating assault-style rifles like the one suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz is accused of using more like handguns than long guns.
That could mean raising the minimum age to purchase the weapon to 21, creating a waiting period and making it more difficult for people who exhibit signs of mental illness from buying the weapon even without a diagnosis.
This view >>>> pic.twitter.com/1Pb1w11WIU— Sarah Chadwick (@Sarahchadwickk) February 21, 2018
Democrats attempted to get a bill to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines heard on the House floor on Tuesday. Republicans, who dominate the chamber, dismissed it. Students who were at the Capitol ahead of their classmates found that Republicans steered the conversation away from gun restrictions.
Rachel Catania, 15, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, said: "We're not going to be the school that got shot, we're going to be the school that got shot and made something happen. A change is going to happen."
"This has just really taught me to eat the cake and to buy the shoes and just, to make the most of life because tomorrow is never guaranteed." Florida shooting survivor Rachel Catania describes how this event has changed her. https://t.co/ZCvQS6w0Ru https://t.co/dGkZrDWx6l— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) February 21, 2018
PA & Digital Desk