WASHINGTON – Four years after 17 students and others were gunned down at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, families and gun control advocates pressed President Joe Biden on Monday to do more to address gun violence.
Protesters demonstrated near the White House, and the father of one teenager killed at the school scaled a 150-foot (46-meter) crane across the street on the Valentine's Day anniversary of the shooting.
“The whole world will listen to Joaquin today. He has a very important message,” the father, Manuel Oliver, said in a tweeted video, referring to his son. “I asked for a meeting with Joe Biden a month ago, never got that meeting.”
Oliver unfurled a sign that showed a photo of his son and criticized Biden for gun deaths since he took office. The father and two other protesters were taken into custody, accused of breaking into a construction site and scaling the equipment.
His action was part of a series of efforts to draw attention to gun violence and to a new website chronicling 47,000 gun deaths, including suicides, since Biden was inaugurated. The tracker also lists the number of young people killed and injured as well as mass shootings and encourages users to call on Biden and other administration officials to act.
“As a candidate, Joe Biden promised to prioritize gun violence prevention. As president, Joe Biden has not,” said Igor Volsky, founder and executive director of the group Guns Down America.
Blocked by members of Congress, especially Republicans, Biden’s efforts to pass legislation to tighten gun laws haven’t left the drawing board. He also was forced to pull his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The group is calling on Biden to start a national office to address gun violence and to make a new nomination to head the ATF.
Biden said in a statement before the protest that the movement to end gun violence is “extraordinary."
“We can never bring back those we’ve lost. But we can come together to fulfill the first responsibility of our government and our democracy: to keep each other safe," he said. “For Parkland, for all those we’ve lost, and for all those left behind, it is time to uphold that solemn obligation.”
With no congressional appetite for new gun laws, Deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden “is doing everything that he can from his perch from the White House, from the federal government.”
A former student opened fire at the high school in 2018, killing 14 students and three staff members. The massacre on Feb. 14, 2018 — Valentine’s Day — inflamed the nation’s debate over guns, turned some Parkland students into political activists and gave rise to some of the biggest youth demonstrations since the Vietnam era.
Former Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg, now a vocal gun control advocate, said they were protesting in front of the White House on Monday and were driving a truck around Washington with a sign that blares the number of gun deaths and injuries since Biden has been president.
“We are demanding that he takes action to save lives before the next Parkland happens,” Hogg said.
Since the Parkland shooting, gun violence at schools has only risen. There were at least 136 instances of gunfire on school grounds between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, according to a tally last week by the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Biden has acted to crack down on “ ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and that are often purchased without a background check. He has worked to tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces like the one used in a Boulder, Colorado, shooting that left 10 people dead. He’s also encouraged cities to use their COVID-19 relief dollars to help manage gun violence.
However, there are limits to legislation when there is strong opposition among many in Congress to significant gun measures. The strongest effort in recent years failed, even after 20 children and six adults were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Parkland happened six years later.
Biden, a Democrat, said he’s asked members of Congress to provide funding to help reduce violent crime and has said they must pass legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers.
The U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center studied school attacks nationwide from 2006-18 and reported that most attackers were bullied and that warning signs were there. Most important, the researchers said, about 94% talked about their attacks and what they intended to do in some way, whether orally or electronically, and 75% were detected because they talked about their plots. About 36% were thwarted within two days of their possible intended attacks.