‘This is the time to talk about it’ — School shooting survivors prepare for town hall

(CNN) — With the sound of gunshots still fresh in their minds, survivors of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are raising their voices, hoping to prevent another massacre.

“This is the time to talk about it. We’ve gone through the stages of grief,” said Ashley Paseltiner, 16.

One week ago, Ashley and her classmates hid in a closet while a gunman stormed the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Wednesday, she and others from the school community will fill the stands of the BB&T Center for a nationally televised town hall hosted by CNN.

The shooting set off national discussion on gun laws and how to keep communities safe, catalyzing a protest movement led by young survivors of the shooting.

“We are here to fight and we are not going down until we make a change,” Ashley said.

Trump, governor decline invitations

Thousands of people are expected to attend the town hall, which follows days of sit-ins, walkouts and demonstrations in solidarity with survivors.

“Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action,” will feature students, parents, politicians and members of the community in a discussion moderated by Jake Tapper.

US Rep. Ted Deutch and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio accepted invitations to participate. The National Rifle Association also agreed to take part; national spokeswoman Dana Loesch will represent the organization.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Florida Senate President Joe Negron both declined to participate in person.

President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott were offered the opportunity to participate and take questions by appearing live from Washington and Tallahassee, CNN said. Both declined to appear in person as well as via live remote.

Scott said he would be working on legislative solutions in Tallahassee. On Tuesday, he held a roundtable discussion on school safety and gun policy with state leaders and was set to meet with students Wednesday.

Trump held a listening session at the White House with those affected by some of the nation’s highest-profile deadly school shootings, from Columbine High School to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

The President pledged to go to work after the meeting ended. “We don’t want others to go through the kind of pain you have gone through. It wouldn’t be right,” he said.

Meadow Pollack’s father, Andrew Pollack, said he was speaking Wednesday because his daughter couldn’t.

“We as a country failed our children,” he said.

Calls for compromise

Some participants will come straight from the state capitol in Tallahassee after lobbying lawmakers for tougher restrictions on weapons like the one used to kill their friends and teachers.

On Tuesday, with survivors en route to Tallahassee, legislators rejected a weapons ban. They did, however, declare pornography to be a public health risk.

Some students said they blamed lawmakers for putting the gun in the shooter’s hands through what they described as lax gun laws.

“We were there. We heard the gunshots, we had to walk over the dead bodies,” said 15-year-old Nadia Murillo. She implored lawmakers to heed their calls for tougher gun laws.

“Please listen to us. We just never want this to happen again,” she said. “You need to listen to us because we are the future and we know what we want.”

Senior Jack Haimowitz, 18, said change will only come when people from both sides of the gun debate come together with the goal of compromise.

“Instead of viewing the issue for solving this as a two-headed monster in which conservative ideas and liberal ideas are the only two individual answers, we have to meld them,” he said.

“We have to maybe take the bullets out of the gun as well as putting on the vest and we have to make it harder for the shooter to get the guns, from the liberal perspective, as well as potentially putting in metal detectors in the schools so we can honor the conservative perspective.”

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