These Stunning Quotes From Parkland Students' Town Hall Prove They're The Real Heroes

by Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

The Parkland, Florida, school shooting survivors weren't lofting softballs or mincing words at the CNN Town Hall. In the gun control discussion, Parkland students asked Florida lawmakers and the National Rifle Association to address what was being done to prevent future massacres. And no, they weren't asking for "thoughts and prayers" — they were demanding action and seeking concrete solutions to stop mass shootings. Responding to their concerns were Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, Rep. Ted Deutch, and NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch.

Students from Stoneman Douglas High School led the charge in the gun control debate mere days after they survived a mass shooting on campus on Feb. 14. The suspect, a 19-year-old former student, walked into the school with a legally purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and killed 17 people, police reported. Dubbed the "Never Again" movement, the teenage activists are giving speeches, appearing on television, mobilizing on social media, walking out of their schools, and planning a nationwide protest for March 24 — all to send this clear and powerful message to the U.S. government: This is not OK, something has to change, and we are holding you accountable.

On Wednesday night at the CNN Town Hall meeting, the Parkland students were given a chance to press for answers from state representatives and the NRA. Here are some of the most noteworthy quotes:

"Was the blood of my classmates worth your blood money?"

Freshman Michelle Lapidot immediately called out the "puppet politicians" backed by the NRA. (For reference, the Open Secrets project, compiled by nonpartisan and nonprofit research group the Center for Responsive Politics, gives a breakdown of how much money each U.S. lawmaker has accepted from the NRA.)

The town hall moderator dismissed Lapidot's question for not being specifically directed to Sen. Nelson, who was up to answer the first question. Nelson, a Democrat, has a poor rating with the NRA and has been vocal about adding restrictions on assault weapons.

"Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?"

Donations from the NRA continued to be a major talking point and junior Cameron Kasky put Sen. Rubio to task for the more than $3 million the Republican has accepted from the NRA throughout his political career. Rubio initially sidestepped Kasky's question by responding that everyone has the right to be safe in school and that he supported any any law that would keep guns out of the hands of a "deranged killer."

"The influence of these groups comes not from money, the influence comes from the millions of people that agree with the agenda," Rubio added.

Kasky called out Rubio for not giving a yes or no answer to his original question, to which the senator answered by saying "if people want to support my agenda, they're welcome to do so."

"I want you to know we will support your two children in a way that you will not."

Senior Emma Gonzalez asked Loesch, a conservative commentator who got her start as a mommy blogger, if she thinks it should be harder to obtain semi-automatic guns and modifications, like bump stocks, that can make an assault weapon perform like a fully automatic weapon. Instead of answering her question, the NRA spokesperson went off on a tangent about mental illness and described the Florida shooting as a case of one "insane monster." Loesch said she supported a background check to stop people who are "nuts" from purchasing firearms.

"Why do we have to march on Washington just to save innocent lives?"

Senior Ryan Dietsch wanted to know why he and his classmates even had to do this discussion-turned-debate, questioning why they have to be the ones who speak out to Florida state politicians.

He and other survivors announced earlier this week they are planning a protest march in Washington, D.C. Dietsch said in an interview with PBS News:

We've had enough. We are the generation that was born after Columbine. We have lived with is our entire lives and now it happened at my school. I spent two hours in a closet just hiding and I am done hiding. We're done hiding. America has done hiding.

The demonstration is scheduled to take place March 24. Meanwhile, students across the country are already staging walk-outs from school to stand in solidarity with the Parkland shooting survivors.

"You may have brought the dark, but together we will shine the light."

At the end of the town hall, survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting sang "Shine," a song written by the students. Lyrics include:

You're not going to knock us down
We'll get back up again
You may have hurt us but I promise we are stronger and
We're not going to let you win
We're putting up a fight
You may have brought the dark
But together we will shine a light

Along with the students, teachers and parents of the Parkland shooting victims also confronted the politicians and the NRA.

President Trump held a listening session earlier that day in D.C., where attendees included six students and families from Parkland, as well as parents of the Columbine and Sandy Hook mass shooting victims. Trump suggested various solutions ranging from mental health screenings for gun purchases to arming teachers. At the town hall, Broward County Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie, whose jurisdiction includes Stoneman Douglas, disagreed with Trump's more controversial suggestion: "We don't need to put guns in the hands of teachers."

These students' quotes won't mark the end of their mission for stricter gun control. You can bet they're going to continue making their voices heard well into the future.