Parkland parents form lobbying group for safer schools

A tight-knit group of parents and relatives of the victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, launched a nonprofit group Thursday to push for sensible gun laws, increased school security and mental health intervention for those who might lash out violently.

The group, Stand With Parkland, wants to prevent another massacre like the one that claimed the lives of 14 students and three school employees Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, northwest of Fort Lauderdale. Authorities say Nikolas Cruz, 19. a former student at the school, has confessed to the shooting.

April Schentrup, mother of Parkland victim Carmen Schentrup, 16, said the group is likely to back universal background checks, raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21, installing metal detectors and armed guards at all schools, and taking guns away from the mentally unfit. In an announcement of the group's formation, it called violence in schools "an American epidemic."

RELATED: Parkland, Fla. keeps memory of shooting alive

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An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wears a t-shirt with the names of the victims of the shooting, as she plays the piano at her house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Daniela Menescal (R), who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attends a baseball game her brother is playing in, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries next to his family after painting a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. Listening to his son's favourite music, Oliver painted the mural from beginning to end, but as soon as he finished, he broke down and had to walk inside the hotel to mourn. Later he went out again to give interviews to the media to call for more gun control. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries in his hotel room before painting a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. Minutes before leaving the hotel room to paint the mural, Oliver put on his son's headphones and played his favourite music. Almost immediately, he started to cry and he had to take them off. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A man looks at pictures of the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland on the program during the graduation ceremony for students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Manuel Oliver (R) and Patricia Padauy (2nd R), parents of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, look at the screen as they wait backstage to receive their son's diploma during his graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Patricia Padauy, the mother of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds up her son's diploma during his graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attend their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walks past his son's classmates, during their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, helps her brother practice baseball at their house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Autographed sports t-shirts, pictures and placards are seen among other mementoes at the room of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at his house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
The entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is seen after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A member of the media pushes a cart full of equipment in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A garbage bag full of crime scene tape is seen close to the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Patricia Padauy, the mother of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks to a journalist during an interview before attending her son's high school graduation ceremony to receive his diploma, at home in Parkland, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, looks for her belongings inside her clear backpack at her house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
The initials of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a placard are placed on the fence at Park Trails Elementary School, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds up a placard as he paints a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. As he paints the mural Oliver listens to his son's favourite music on the headphones that belonged to him. The mural depicts his son the day that he died, carrying flowers to his girlfriend for Valentine's day. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Carlos Rodriguez (2nd R), student and shooting survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks with his schoolmates and co-founders of Stories Untold, a movement created to encourage victims of gun violence to share their stories, during a meeting at his house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Pictures of Joaquin Oliver and Aaron Feis, victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are seen on a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
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"We know this is a complex issue, but we've been dealing with this for nearly 20 years — since Columbine," she told NBC News on Wednesday. "This is a discussion that needs to be had."

Word of the political nonprofit's formation drew a quick response from the National Rifle Association, which stood silent for a week after the mass shooting.

"Let's be clear — there are many Parkland students and families [who] want to focus on school safety and reject holding that important goal hostage to the politics of gun control," Chris W. Cox, director of the NRA's lobbying arm, said via email. "Making it more difficult for law-abiding adults to exercise their constitutional right to self-defense will not improve public safety."

Other gun control groups, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, welcomed the effort.

"The loss these parents have gone through is immense and unimaginable," Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign, said in a statement. "We're grateful that they would honor their children's memories in a way that would prevent future tragedies, and we at Brady look forward to reaching out and working with them in any way we can."

The family members, who were influential in the enactment of rare gun legislation in Florida following the Parkman tragedy, are following a tough act — the students themselves, including David Hogg and Emma González, who have become national sensations and gun-control lightning rods. This summer they're following the spring's March for Our Lives demonstrations with a Road to Change nationwide summer tour.

Stand With Parkland isn't girding for war with the NRA, but it does have goals.

Image: parkland Vigil

Tony Montalto, father of Parkland victim Gina Montalto, 14, said in an interview that the idea is to find common ground for the children's sake. "We're trying to energize the middle," he said.

The group is composed of parents of 13 of the 14 student victims and relatives of all three school staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas that day, according to organizers. Its 501(c)4 status means it can lobby full time and back political candidates with money and messaging.

The organization will seek online donations from people around the world who have expressed their support for the families, the parents said.

"We hope we can solve this uniquely American problem," Montalto said.

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