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Hillsborough students say they’ve only just begun to focus on gun control

Only 16 days ago, a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School took the lives of 14 high school students and three adults.

Nevertheless, some believe the gun control debate is “over.”

That’s what Cafe Con Tampa head Bill Carlson was told when announcing the weekly lecture series would focus on three Hillsborough County students inspired to speak out about the issue.

“The whole world is watching us right now,” 14-year-old Safiyyah Ameer said Friday at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.

The Blake High School student explained why she and many of her classmates are so focused on doing something to prevent another Parkland from occurring.

While there have been countless gun massacres the U.S. over the past two decades, little has been done legislatively to address the matter.

After a shocking mass shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut killed 20 children, many felt something would finally happen; it did not.

In Parkland, however, from the day after the tragedy, several articulate teenagers from Stoneman Douglas have emerged as media stars through their pronounced comments on gun violence.

And politicians appear ready to respond, at least in Florida.

Measures introduced by Gov. Rick Scott and the House and Senate are being debated fiercely with just a week left in the 2018 Legislative Session.

“We have the power to make change, and we’re using that to our advantage and we’re going to go forward and make change,” said Ameer, who was behind last Friday’s Blake High School walkout and the subsequent rally/news conference at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa.

Alex Barrow, a 16-year-old from Hillsborough High School, told the Cafe Con Tampa audience he and his colleagues met with 40 different students from high schools in Hillsborough Tuesday to strategize about their next actions.

Plans include two upcoming protests: one on March 14, and another on March 24 to coincide with the national march on Washington led by students protesting against gun violence.

Barrow said about 40 different students from different high schools in Hillsborough met this past Tuesday to strategize about their next actions.

While the outrage remains high, several adults in the audience asked the students if they were in the effort for the long haul.

“Persistence will be critical to your success,” advised political consultant Gregory Wilson. “How strong do you believe your resolve will be?”

“It’s definitely going to be hard to keep up this resilience that we’ve acquired and keeping up our courage to stand up against what we are for and to stay strong through it all and through the judgments of the people who are going against what we are trying to do,” Ameer admitted.

“This time it will be different,” Barrow promised. “We realize now that the politicians in office will not initiate the change by themselves, and the responsibility has fallen upon us, the students to take action.”

“We’re students. We’re juggling our personal lives, AP classes, homework, and we’re also trying to keep our peers from being killed,” said 14-year-old Julize Diaz from Blake High School, the third member of the group. “So, of course, there’s going to be some bumps on the road.”

The three students, like many in the public education world, said they were vehemently opposed to arming schoolteachers, the most controversial piece of the bills moving through the Legislature. Governor Scott is opposed to that requirement, but it’s uncertain if he would veto a school safety package that includes that item.

The reality on the ground in Florida schools has changed in the wake of Parkland. Barrow said that teachers in all his classes now lock the door when instruction begins.

When asked if they learned much about civics in their classes, Ameer, daughter of St. Petersburg union activist Maria Jose Chapa, said history books only give the “sugar-coated version” of what happened in the U.S.

“I have to learn that on my own and definitely from my mother. She teaches me the real history of America,” Ameer said.

Unlike some venues, where discussions about gun control can get heated, the mostly liberal crowd at Cafe Con Tampa (which included Democratic legislative candidates Bob Buesing and Debra Bellanti and Hillsborough County Commission candidate Kimberly Overman) rarely disagreed with the sentiments from the speakers, starting with many in the audience giving them a standing ovation when the discussion began.

The one time the students were challenged came from a question from New Tampa Republican Jim Davison, an unsuccessful 2016 City Council candidate.

Alluding to measures in the Legislature that would raise the age of purchasing guns from 18 to 21 in Florida (a proposal vehemently opposed by the NRA and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam),

Davison, a self-described baby boomer, said he came from the generation that fought for 18-year-olds to get the ability to vote, drink, smoke and other rights as an adult.

Why should someone who gets trained to be a killer in the military, comes back home at 20 and is denied the chance to buy a rifle, Davison asked.

Diaz replied that the soldier’s job was to kill people when fighting overseas, but when they return home, there was no need for a gun.

Ameer said many soldiers return home with Post Stress Traumatic Disorder, so it would be foolhardy to give them guns.

Barrow believed people should be able to own a handgun, but not assault rifles (Davison agreed).

Tampa mayoral candidate Topher Morrison asked the trio if they were now inspired to get involved in politics when they get older.

Ameer replied that her current activism is just the start of a political career.

Diaz wants to be a journalist; Barrow intends to enter the Naval Academy.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

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