By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - When they got prayers and thoughts from U.S. lawmakers after a massacre at a Florida high school that left 17 students and teachers dead, thousands of young people turned to the country's largest gun-control advocacy group to learn how to make their voices heard.
Students flooded Everytown for Gun Safety with calls after last week's Florida school massacre, prompting the creation of its first student branch, the group said on Wednesday.
"We can do social media like no one else," said Sophie Herrmann, 18, a senior seeking to start a Students Demand Action group at Benilde-St. Margaret's, a Catholic high school in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. "We are ready to take on the fight."
On Feb. 14, a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school, the latest in a long series of deadly U.S. school shootings, stirring the nation's long-running debate about gun rights and public safety.
Survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have emerged as the new faces of the gun-control movement and marched on the state capital of Tallahassee on Wednesday to call for a ban on assault-style weapons.
The youth-led protest movement has rallied around the #NeverAgain slogan, attracted prominent celebrity supporters and plans a rally in Washington on March 24.
They are a generation born into a world where schools routinely practice active shooter drills by having students lock the classroom door and hide out of sight to try to prevent another massacre like the 1999 shooting in Columbine, Colorado that killed 13 or the massacre in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 dead.
The new "Students Demand Action" branch is expected to try to lift a ban on government research into gun violence, get out the notoriously absent youth vote and even run for elected office themselves.
Students Demand Action is set to hold its first-ever nationwide organizing call on Wednesday evening, and participants anticipate the high school and college student groups will take a different tact from their elders to stop gun violence.
Students will likely push to restore federal funding for scientific studies of firearms-injury prevention, which has been choked off since 1996 by the so-called Dickey Amendment.
It was sponsored by Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican who described himself as the National Rifle Association’s “point person in Congress," after government researchers reported that people who kept guns in their homes faced a nearly three-fold greater risk of homicide and a nearly five-fold greater risk of suicide. (http://reut.rs/2sLHKC8)
Millennials are far less likely than Baby Boomers to vote in mid-term elections in November, so another expected focus of the student group will be getting young voters to the polls, said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown, a 4 million member organization funded by billionaire businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Not only getting out the vote but registering new voters. Something like 4 million Americans will turn 18 before mid-term elections," Watts said. "They are chomping at the bit to vote on this issue."
And, if no candidate emerges to challenge an incumbent beholden to the National Rifle Association, members of Students Demand Action will likely be trained by Everytown to run for elected office themselves, both Watts and Herrmann said.
"We are ready. If Congress isn’t going to fight for common sense gun remedies, then let us take those spots," Herrmann said.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)