Pain turns political in Parkland after school shootings

BY KEVIN SULLIVAN, TIM CRAIG AND WILLIAM WAN The Washington Post
 
 PARKLAND, Fla. — On a day when Parkland began burying its young dead, a dozen people stood on a street corner holding up “More Gun Control” signs as passing drivers honked and shouted in support.
 
 “Look what we started,” said Carlos Rodriguez, 50, who was on his way to work when he stopped to join the protest. “Look at all these people. One match started a whole forest fire.”
 
 This most peaceful and orderly of places has been devastated by the most violent and chaotic of acts. And amid the horse trails, bike paths and gated communities of a city that prides itself on “country elegance,” the response to a shooting Wednesday that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been a raw, growing and furious burst of activism and demand for change.
 
 “We’re not a politically charged community — this is new, because we’ve had enough,” said Grace Solomon, a city commissioner who is organizing a large group of parents and students to travel to Tallahassee, the state capital, and then to Washington to demand “common-sense gun legislation.”
 
 “Parkland families have really involved parents; they are not going to take this sitting down,” Solomon said. “We have an army of moms who are tired of having their kids assaulted. Democrats and Republicans are coming together to find common ground we can bring to Tallahassee.”
 
 Parkland, founded in 1963 on the swampy fringe of the Everglades, has long been a place of gentle ease with great schools, a well-educated and affluent population of about 32,000 people. It had no stores until the 1990s and still has only four stoplights — including one that just got left-turn arrows in the past couple months.
 
 Its violent crime rate is a tiny fraction of the rate statewide, and city spokesman Todd DeAngelis said police are more likely to be called for a trespassing alligator than for a murder.
 
 Even its politics have a scrupulously fair balance: Although officials said the city tends to lean Democratic, like all of Broward County, President Donald Trump won one local precinct by 16 points in the 2016 election and narrowly lost four others.
 
 But one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history has hit this city with a ferocity that has changed the calculation.
 
 Every community responds differently to the mass shootings that have become so frequent in the United States. Dancing showgirls and chapel-wedding newlyweds were back in the streets of Las Vegas soon after a gunman sprayed bullets across a music festival in October, signaling a quick return to normalcy. In small-town Texas, a somber religiosity defined the aftermath of a church massacre that killed 26 in November.
 
 But Parkland has responded with a call to activism — angry teachers, parents and teenagers demanding stricter guns laws, more government money for school security and better treatment for mental illness.
 
 “This going to energize a lot of people to vote this year,” said Carl Hiaasen, the best-selling novelist and journalist, who grew up in Plantation, just south of Parkland. “People are angry.”
 
 At a vigil Thursday night in the palm-lined heart of Parkland, people broke into a spontaneous and enraged chant of “No more guns! No more guns!” Many were students, who are organizing on social media and calling for young people to lead the political charge.
 
 Annabel Claprood, 17, was in Spanish class Wednesday when she looked down at her phone. It was 2:32 p.m. — the moment, she says, she became a lifelong advocate of gun control and new campus safety laws. At that moment, the shooting started. She took shelter in her room and heard every shot.
 
 Now, the 17-year-old has decided to travel to Tallahassee to begin pushing for new campus safety laws.
 
 “They said every time something like this happens it’s not going to happen again, but it’s happening again and again, so we obviously are doing something wrong,” Claprood said.
 
 “You should not have a gun at the age of 18,” said Claprood, who said it makes no sense that at 18 you can buy a gun but not drink alcohol.
 
 Florida has relatively few restrictions on gun ownership. Unlike California, for example, Florida does not require background checks for private gun sales. It does not regulate sales of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines (although federal law requires assault-weapon buyers from a licensed dealer to be at least 18). State laws also prohibit cities from passing gun restrictions.
 
 MIKE STOCKER/TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
 
Protesters attend a rally at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to demand government action on firearms on Saturday.