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News Brief: Shooting Survivors Meet Trump; Students Protest For Gun Control


In two different power centers yesterday, students, teachers and families from Parkland, Fla., confronted their representatives.


Those meetings were public, and they were televised. And as you would imagine, the conversations were emotional. The White House held what it called a listening session with survivors of gun violence. Andrew Pollack lost his daughter in the Parkland school shooting, and when it was his turn to address President Trump, here's what he said.


ANDREW POLLACK: Should've been one school shooting, and we should've fixed it. And I'm pissed because my daughter, I'm not going to see again.

MARTIN: That anger, that emotion carried over to a town hall that was hosted by CNN last night. And Parkland students, teachers and parents all grilled a spokeswoman for the NRA and Senator Marco Rubio about gun laws.

GREENE: All right, let's bring in NPR's Mara Liasson. She's our national political correspondent.

Hi, Mara.


GREENE: Let's start with last night in that CNN town hall. I mean, extraordinary to see teenagers directly questioning lawmakers like Senator Rubio and getting them on the record on this stuff.

LIASSON: Getting them on the record and calling Senator Rubio pathetically weak.


LIASSON: They booed him when he said he wouldn't refuse to continue to take money from the NRA. But he did move on two things. He said that he would be in favor of an age restriction - how old you can be when you can buy an assault rifle. And he'd reconsider his position - previous position against the banning of large-capacity magazines. He - last night in that CNN town hall, you could really see the kind of pressure that Rubio was under and also other Republicans in Florida. The Florida state Legislature on Tuesday voted down a bill that would've revived an assault weapons ban, but apparently, they are now also considering raising the age where you can purchase an assault rifle.

GREENE: What does this mean, broadly, when we're speaking about, you know, Rubio and his political futures? Is this a real problem?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, he's not running for anything yet that we know of in 2018. Rick Scott, who's the governor, who is widely expected to run for senator, was not at that town hall meeting. It shows you that the conventional wisdom used to be that the passion and the intensity was on the gun rights side. Maybe that's shifting.

GREENE: Let me ask you about this moment for the NRA. I mean, we have this big important meeting for conservatives in Washington, the Conservative Political Action Conference. What do you do if you're the NRA? Do you sort of lay low after what happened in Florida, or do you use this as a chance to lobby politicians to stand firm on gun rights?

LIASSON: Well, the NRA usually lays low, but there was an NRA representative at the CNN town hall last night. Wayne LaPierre from the NRA will be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. They are against this idea of make - raising the age at which you could buy an assault weapon. And at the White House yesterday, where the - President Trump talked to survivors and families, he came out in favor of this age restriction. And he usually doesn't go in opposition to an important part of his base like the NRA, so we'll see if he maintains that position.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

GREENE: So that's the view from Washington. And let's turn now to Florida.

MARTIN: Yeah, Parkland students joined hundreds of others for a march on the Florida Statehouse yesterday.

GREENE: And NPR's Brakkton Booker spent some time with them. He joins us now from Tallahassee.

Hi, Brakkton.


GREENE: Just paint us a picture, if you can, of what was happening yesterday in Tallahassee.

BOOKER: Sure. Now, David, I've covered many political rallies and protests over the years - five or six years or so - and this is something that I hadn't seen before. At times, this event resembled, like, a school pep rally. People were holding signs. There was crowds chanting, we won't stop, and vote them out. Now, there were about a hundred students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, but there were thousands who came out to the steps of the old Statehouse building to support them. There were 80-year-old grandmas, PTA moms who'd took off work just to be there. And what was really different is that young people were leading this movement, and there was certainly idealism and optimism that these young people could change minds, change laws and change the way guns are viewed in Tallahassee.

GREENE: So what is the goal or the strategy here, do you think? Is it to get these young people, these students face-to-face with lawmakers, something that really, you know, in theory, can put a lot of public pressure on lawmakers to do something?

BOOKER: Well, certainly, that is part of the calculation here, David. I think this really sets up this huge clash of expectations, you know? On the one side, the students and survivors are angry. They're upset that that laws on the books weren't enough to protect them, and their classmates and their teachers. You know, 17 people died just over a week ago at school. So having these young people confront lawmakers and say, hey, look at me, I'm the one who survived this; I knew people who died at my school; you need to change the gun laws now - now, lawmakers certainly feel for the survivors. And generally speaking, you know, guns - gun rights issues in Florida is huge, and the state is usually expanding gun rights rather than passing gun control bills, but the presence of this - these students in the capital has certainly increased the urgency to get something passed. And one thing to note, David - March 9, just a couple weeks from now, is the end of the legislative session here in Tallahassee, so, you know...

GREENE: Oh, that's pretty soon.

BOOKER: Yeah. They've got to get something done soon if they want to get it passed before the deadline there.

GREENE: Well, what is the something? I mean, where do things stand legislatively in Florida when it comes to guns?

BOOKER: Well, there are positive signs of change. There - in the GOP-controlled legislature, there is a gun framework that is getting a lot of attention, sponsored by Senate - incoming Senate President Bill Galvano. This includes what Mara talking about, lifting the legal age to have an assault rifle from 18 to 21, adding a three-day waiting period for all rifle purchases, and calls for expanding school safety and mental health counseling, among other things.

MARTIN: I just think it's worth taking a second to just acknowledge how remarkable these students are. I mean, it is unbelievable to watch these young people stand up to lawmakers in their own state, last night on CNN confronting a spokesperson for the NRA in that listening session with President Trump. I mean, they have been maligned on social media, in smear campaigns, and these people, as they have said, they have earned the right to speak, doesn't matter if you agree with them or not. But their poise and their courage is remarkable.

GREENE: All this after what they've just been through.

MARTIN: Right, unbelievable.

GREENE: I mean, in - just days ago, yeah. NPR's Brakkton Booker in Tallahassee this morning. Brakkton, thanks.

BOOKER: Thank you.


GREENE: OK, Rachel, or I should say @RachelNPR, maybe.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GREENE: Twitter has been doing something - either a purge or a cleanse. They're doing something.

MARTIN: Yeah, they're doing something about bots. They're trying to get rid of them. In the process, though, some real people - many of them outspoken conservatives - have been locked out of their accounts. They are not happy about this, as you might imagine. So what is the story behind the #twitterlockout?

GREENE: Let's talk about it with Kerry Flynn. She covers business for the tech news site Mashable.

Hi, Kerry.

KERRY FLYNN: Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Yeah, thanks for coming on and talking about this. What exactly is Twitter doing?

FLYNN: So what is Twitter doing? That's a good question that a lot of people asked.


MARTIN: Just in general in the world.

GREENE: Good place to - yeah, what's up with Twitter?

FLYNN: Well, the issue that it really comes down to is they aren't transparent about everything they do. So what happened Tuesday night is, quote, unquote, "quietly," they purged a lot of, quote, unquote, "bot accounts." It's really unclear what exactly happened, but what people spoke out about is that thousands of people got locked out of their accounts, meaning they couldn't tweet anymore. And me, a user who wasn't affected, if I went to one of their pages, I would be warned that their account was temporarily locked, and I would have to click to actually see their tweets, which is, you know, just another hassle. But so the issue that Twitter required a certain subset of users to provide a phone number to verify that they're a real account - that's a total common practice across social networks to guarantee that, you know, it's people like you and me, actual humans behind accounts, versus...

GREENE: Because a bot can't provide a phone number.

FLYNN: Exactly, yeah.

GREENE: I mean, that would be the way to weed them out.


GREENE: But the problem here was...


GREENE: Yet. The problem here that - I mean, maybe people would understand if they - if a group of people just got accidentally swept up in this, but it was conservatives who seemed to be singled out, right? What is the company saying about that?

FLYNN: Seemingly. And I think that's what's really telling is the statement that Twitter provided. Again, they aren't transparent and perhaps very delayed in when they respond to actions. This happened quietly Tuesday night. It wasn't until late Wednesday afternoon when they provided a statement that the first line was super telling. It said, Twitter's tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias. It's insane to me that they have to say that in the first sentence to really tell their users that they don't have bias. But the backlash has gotten so strong that really no one believes them anymore. They've been saying it again and again, but it's so common, especially for conservatives, to be like, no, you guys based in the Bay Area in San Francisco have a liberal bias. That's what they call out.

GREENE: At a minimum, it's a real image problem for Twitter, I mean, regardless of what exactly happened. Is this a - becoming more of a problem for them, that they're not transparent when they deal with these types of crises?

FLYNN: Especially when I think their CEO Jack Dorsey said that one thing they're super committed to is being transparent. So it's...

GREENE: (Laughter).

FLYNN: You got to hold that to what...

GREENE: That's the priority, at least in words.

FLYNN: His other priority making sure his company's profitable. He did achieve that last quarter, and that's great for Twitter. But one thing they're going to need to continue to do going forward is, yes, make their platform more safe, and that includes dealing with bot and spam accounts. And you were talking about the Parkland shooting earlier. They've been doing a lot in the past few days to try to protect the young children who are speaking out about that issue. They're verifying their accounts.

GREENE: That's...

FLYNN: They're making sure that they're, like, dealing with the bot issue there.

GREENE: We'll have to leave it there. Kerry Flynn from Mashable, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

FLYNN: Thanks, guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAHWEE SONG, "THE DIFFERENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.