More than 100 people from Gainesville and Ocala are expected to caravan to Tallahassee with thousands of other Floridians on 20 buses Monday to fight for stronger gun legislation at the Rally to Tally for Gun Reform.
The rally will follow Wednesday’s gathering of hundreds of high school students, including survivors of the Parkland shooting, who traveled to Tallahassee to speak with Gov. Rick Scott about improving state gun laws. Since the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, gun reform activists have been hard at work to bring change in legislation.
The buses will depart from more than ten sites around the state, free of charge. High school students and their parents, University of Florida students and alumni and Gainesville residents from all walks of life have reserved seats for the rally, said Melissa Hawthorne, a leader at the Gainesville/Ocala chapter of the Florida Women’s March. The buses have been paid for by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.
“We’re seeing a fair mix of everybody signing up for seats to go to Tallahassee,” Hawthorne said.
She said organizers originally expected to fill 10 busses with around 500 people. However during the last few days, that number has more than doubled, requiring them to bring ten additional buses, Hawthorne said.
University of Florida freshman Michaela Rollins plans to attend the rally with friends and hopes to convince lawmakers that change is necessary. “It’s important to keep this momentum going across Florida,” she said.
For University of Florida alumna Robyn Raymond, the issue facing Floridians isn’t just about school safety. “This affects everyone,” she said. “It’s about safety, not just in schools, but in shopping malls, movie theaters and everywhere else we go.”
A 1982 UF graduate, Raymond lives just miles away from where the Parkland shooting took place. Wanting to make a difference, she is one of the 1,000 who have signed up to be on a bus departing her hometown at 1:30 a.m.
A major first step in making these places secure is banning assault weapons, Raymond said.
“I do believe that some of these people are starting to change their minds about assault weapons,” she said, citing several popular internet videos involving gun enthusiasts turning in or destroying their personal assault rifles.
While there has been a notable lack of opposition to the rally, the people participating in the event have their work cut out for them.
Following the rally, the group of over 1,000 concerned citizens will break apart and go to the capital in smaller groups to speak with lawmakers, hoping to influence their stance on gun reform, Hawthorne said.
“I don’t understand how anyone could oppose laws that could make safe gun ownership, gun responsibility, a priority,” she said. “There is so much that we can do to make a difference.”