About 40 Parkland moms — and at least one dad and one kid — had a long, grueling day at the Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday. They waited for hours to speak to committees, struggled to understand last-minute amendments added to bills and strategized in the hallways between meetings with the governor and members of the Legislature.
The trip followed a higher profile one the week before from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students after the Feb. 14 shooting there that left 17 dead and more than a dozen others injured.
The Legislature has responded unusually quickly, fast-tracking a comprehensive bill to address gun control, school safety and mental health issues.
The parents who visited expressed their support for the legislation, hoping to keep it moving forward, although they’re not thrilled with all of it.
They don’t like a provision that would allow teachers and other school staff to carry guns if they wanted to and received training. The parents felt blindsided by an amendment adopted in a House of Representatives committee on Tuesday that would make participation in the program mandatory for sheriffs offices rather than optional. It would still be a choice for school boards, but parents like the “checks and balances” of the two-tier approval system at the local level.
They also want a ban on assault weapons — and watched on Tuesday as amendments that would have added one to the bill were voted down in committees on both the House and Senate.
Shelbie Seys, a Parkland resident whose young children will one day attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, organized the bus trip.
“We came up here because it’s important to follow our students’ lead. They set this in motion last week,” she said. “We wanted to support them and make sure that all of our voices were heard.
“We feel like they were,” she added. “We feel like they listened.”
They ended their day with a candlelight vigil in the shadow of the 22-story Capitol building. They gathered in front of a fountain featuring a statue of several leaping dolphins as the sun was setting.
Someone passed out candles as Florida A&M University’s choir sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Some of the parents cried and hugged each other.
Then 17 people lined up, including the mother of Scott Beigel, a teacher who died during the shooting. One by one, they read the names of the victims, and state Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, rang a bell after each one.
Later, two members of the choir began to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Afterwards, Seys said that was appropriate — given what the parents had seen when they left Parkland for Tallahassee on Monday.
“Almost anywhere you go in Parkland, you have to drive by Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” she said. “And as we drove through the city, we could see a rainbow coming out of the freshman building.”