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VP Kamala Harris tours Marjory Stoneman Douglas, announces 2 new initiatives to prevent gun violence

VP Kamala Harris visits South Florida to tour MSD, discuss gun violence
VP Kamala Harris visits South Florida to tour MSD, discuss gun violence 02:29

FORT LAUDERDALE — Vice President Kamala Harris discussed the epidemic of gun violence after visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — the site of the 2018 mass shooting that took the lives of 14 students and three staff members.

She arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Friday and before she toured the 1200 Building of MSD, she met with the families who lost loved ones during the tragedy.

"My beautiful daughter Gina — she was only 14," Tony Montalto said.

His daughter Gina was murdered here. Montalto and the other families were able to tell the vice president the stories of those who were violently ripped from them.

"So that we can tell the stories of our loved ones," he said. "So that we can explain to them the horror of losing your beautiful daughter, your handsome son or your spouse."

Harris is leading the Biden administration's "work to address gun violence while overseeing the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

"President Biden (Joe) and Vice President Harris fought to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), the most significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years. Under this law, the Biden-Harris Administration is making the largest investment in student mental health in history by hiring 14,000 mental health counselors, implementing red flag laws, and strengthening background checks for purchasers under the age of 21 and individuals convicted of domestic abuse," according to the statement.

On Saturday afternoon, Harris held a brief press conference with the victims' families, where she first began her remarks thanking them for their courage to walk the hallways of the 1200 Building as they held the pictures of the loved ones who had died.

"I do believe we have a duty to remember and a duty to bear witness to what happened here," she said. "It is extraordinarily traffic."

Harris went on to emotionally describe what she saw throughout the building, referring to it as "a moment frozen in time" as she talked about paperwork still on desks, laptops, the evidence of the shooting as the dust gathered in the classrooms.

According to the vice president, the families told her that schools are still being constructed and equipped with technology assuming fires are the most pressing emergency, but more children have died from shootings at schools than from on-campus fires.

"These were beautiful people, who I've come to know through their family members, they are so much bigger than a statistic," she said. 

Harris then went on to make two announcements: The launch of the National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center, and an official call to action for states across the country to pass red flags and use federal funding that the Biden administration enacted to help implement gun control laws that already exist.

According to the White House, the Resource Center will provide training and technical assistance to support states and localities in implementing their red flag programs. The center is funded by a U.S. Justice Department grant made possible by the BSCA and is operated by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has already made $750 million available to implement state crisis intervention programs — including red flag programs — through the BSCA.

However, the White House noted in a Saturday morning press release, only six of the 21 states with red flag laws are using the funds to enforce them. The remaining 15 with red flag laws are "strongly encouraged" to use the BSCA's funding to implement their programs and the remaining 29 states that don't have red flag laws should pass them and use the funding to implement them.

In the past week, the heads of the FBI and Secret Service toured the 1200 building with families. Those visits will not last much longer.  At the end of her remarks, Harris said the 1200 Building will soon be demolished but the memory of it will never be erased. 

"It's important to bring people through the building so they can see not only the horror that still exists there but so we can point to the exact thing that failed," Montalto said. "We can also point to things and say these are improvements we need to make and here's an opportunity."

This was Harris' 11th trip to the state since being sworn in.

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