WASHINGTON - Sunday marks three years since 17 people were killed and another 17 wounded when a gunman opened fire at a school in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine's Day 2018.
President Joe Biden used the occasion to call on Congress to strengthen gun laws with "commonsense" reforms. "We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change. The time to act is now," he said in a statement.
Biden called on Congress to enact background checks on all gun sales, eliminate immunity for gun manufacturers and to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The suspect in the Parkland mass shooting, a former student named Nikolas Cruz, opened fire on the school campus with an AR-15 rifle.
"This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer," Biden said.
The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018 inflamed the nation’s debate over guns, turned some Parkland students into political activists and gave rise to some of the biggest youth demonstrations since the Vietnam era.
"The Parkland students and so many other young people across the country who have experienced gun violence are carrying forward the history of the American journey. It is a history written by young people in each generation who challenged prevailing dogma to demand a simple truth: we can do better. And we will," Biden continued.
Biden also let the families of the victims know they are not alone in their grief.
"All across our nation, parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends have known the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence," he said. "Today, as we mourn with the Parkland community, we mourn for all who have lost loved ones to gun violence."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered flags be lowered to half staff from sunrise to sunset across the state Sunday to honor the 14 students and three staff members who died in the shooting.
Gov. DeSantis also noted some of the school safety measures enacted since the tragedy three years ago, including money to install panic alert systems at schools across the state and to strengthen programs meant to prevent violence before they occur.
Meanwhile, the suspect is still awaiting trial.
One reason for the lengthy delay is the coronavirus, which has shut down court operations and made in-person jail access difficult for the defense. Another is the sheer magnitude of the case, with hundreds of witnesses who were at the school that day.
Cruz’s lawyers have repeatedly said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence but prosecutors won’t budge on seeking the death penalty at trial.
No trial date has been set. The next hearing is a status conference, conducted remotely like other such proceedings over the past several months, on Feb. 16.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed