Parkland victims remembered with messages against gun violence

Miami, Feb 14 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Monday joined the nationwide commemoration on the fourth anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 17 people in a school in Parkland, Florida, with a message of support for the fight against the “epidemic of gun violence” and to create a “safer country” for everyone.

In a statement about the shooting, Biden praised the efforts of all those, particularly students, who have pressured elected officials to tighten gun laws, saying that their “extraordinary movement is making sure that the voices of victims and survivors and responsible gun owners are louder than the voices of gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association.”

The president’s message came before the ceremonies organized in Florida to remember the 14 students and three faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who died on Feb. 14, 2018, when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school with an assault rifle.

Cruz pleaded guilty to those murders and his sentencing trial, at which jurors will decide whether he deserves the death penalty or life in prison, will begin in April.

At 3 pm local time many Floridians and officials observed a minute of silence for the victims of the massacre.

On a day on which the flags of government buildings and public schools were flown at half staff in a sign of mourning, other commemorative events were also staged in Parkland, a town about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Miami, and in other cities in South Florida.

In schools in Broward County, where Parkland is located and where no classes were held on Monday in a day of reflection, a minute of silence was observed at 10:17 am, the time when Cruz began his shooting rampage.

In his message, Biden reviewed his administration’s efforts to reduce crimes committed with firearms, including trying to halt the proliferation of so-called “ghost” – or handmade and unregistered – guns and helping cities adopt models for implementing “smart” laws.

Saying that he had asked Congress to approve a budget that allocates $500 million for “proven strategies” that are known to reduce violent crime, Biden urged lawmakers to do more beginning with demanding background checks on all gun buyers.

In his message, Biden emphasized the need for a new legal framework for gun sales in which, besides thorough background checks, also bans the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and eliminates the immunity enjoyed by gun manufacturers for the mayhem their products help to produce.

That is also the demand of Manuel Oliver, the father of one of the students who died in the Parkland attack. Oliver was arrested in Washington after placing on a crane 45 meters (150 feet) high in front of the White House a banner with a huge photograph of his son, Joaquin Guac Oliver, and asking Biden for new anti-gun legislation.

On Monday, Valentine’s Day, Fred Guttenberg, another father of one of the Parkland victims, called for ending gun violence in the US before it impacts “someone you love … so that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life asking, WHAT IF?”

“What if a shooter never came to your school that day? What if a teenager or any other person with known risks was never able to acquire guns or ammunition to cause harm to others?” asked Guttenberg in a series of Twitter posts directed to his murdered daughter, Jaime Taylor Guttenberg.

The fourth anniversary of the massacre, for which Cruz could be sentenced to death, comes at a time when shootings at schools around the country have set new records.

According to a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021, there were 136 incidents of gun violence at schools, a figure almost four times the average for that period since 2013, when the organization started keeping figures.

The 136 shootings at schools resulted in 26 deaths and 96 people being injured, the report said.

“Even though four years have passed since that traumatic day, and I am now a sophomore at Yale University, there is not a moment that goes by that I am not reminded of what happened at my high school,” wrote another survivor of the massacre, Sari Kaufman, in an op-ed column published Monday by the Miami Herald.

Another volunteer with the group Students Demand Action, which is part of the Everytown Survivor Network, noted that 93 percent of Americans want the federal government to strengthen background checks for gun buyers.

David Hogg, another of the Parkland survivors, on Monday launched the Shock Market Web site, which tracks all US firearm deaths during the Biden Administration, which total 47,611 so far – with more than 1,600 of those victims being minors – according to the platform.

“What we are asking for is simple: That the President treats the gun violence epidemic like the emergency that it is, not a to-do list item to get to when he can,” the organization March for Our Lives, the organization that launched the Web site, wrote.

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