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."

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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
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.