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Dick's Sporting Goods pulls assault-style rifles as Florida students return

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Media caption“Those 17 people aren’t going to be there” – Florida student reflects on first day back in class

As students at the Florida school where 17 people were recently killed returned to classes, a major gun retailer has announced it will stop selling the kind of weapon used in the attack.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has more than 600 shops, said it would no longer sell assault-style rifles, and backed “common sense gun reform”.

The move came as pupils and teachers made an emotional return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Grief counsellors were on hand.

In the aftermath of the 14 February shooting, pressure has mounted on US politicians to act on gun control and for corporations to cut ties with the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA).

Firms including Hertz car rental, United airlines and Delta airlines have ended discounts to NRA members.

The announcement by Dick’s Sporting Goods also came as Florida lawmakers proposed a package of gun control measures, among them a controversial bill to arm school staff, including teachers.

“We have tremendous respect and admiration for the students organising and making their voices heard regarding gun violence in schools and elsewhere in our country,” Dick’s Sporting Goods said in a statement. “We have heard you. The nation has heard you.”

The retailer said it was committing itself to:

  • No longer selling assault-style rifles (The company had stopped selling such weapons at its main shops after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting but 35 shops run by a subsidiary called Field & Stream had continued to do so)
  • Banning the sale of high-capacity magazines that allow more shots to be fired without reloading
  • Not selling firearms to anyone under the age of 21

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Guns on display at a Dick’s store in Massachusetts

It said that while it supported the Second Amendment to the US constitution, which protects the right to keep and bear arms, “gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people”.

Dick’s CEO Edward Stack told CNN he expected a backlash from some customers, saying “the hunt business is an important part of the business, no doubt about it”.

The Parkland shooting suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, bought a gun at Dick’s but not the AR-15-style weapon he is alleged to have used in the attack, Mr Stack said.

“We did everything by the book, and we did everything that the law required, and he was still able to buy a gun,” he told ABC.

Walmart, the largest seller of guns in the US, stopped selling high-powered rifles in its shops in 2015, citing low demand.

Emotional return

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a line of police officers, school staff and community members bearing flowers greeted some 3,000 students who returned to classes on Wednesday morning. There were also many reporters, shouting questions to the teenagers about how they felt.

Lyliah Skinner, a 16-year-old student, told the BBC before she left home: “We’re not going to really be learning much today – it’s all about healing.”

She also said she was feeling nervous “because I’m scared it’s gonna happen again”. Lyliah listed people she knew who would not be returning, including Joaquin Oliver, who sat just in front of her in a class they shared.

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Lyliah Skinner packs her bag before returning to school

David Hogg, a senior student and now leading activist, was also feeling trepidation. It was “really hard to think about” what occurred two weeks ago, he said.

“Imagine getting in a plane crash and having to get back on the same plane again and again and again and being expected to learn and act like nothing’s wrong,” he told NBC News.

The handling of the shooting by authorities sparked criticism after it emerged that the FBI and local police had failed to follow up on multiple tips about Mr Cruz, and that an armed deputy at the school had stayed outside the school building while the attack took place.

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Students returned for half a day of classes, but the focus was reconnecting with each other

The school’s Building 12, the site of the shootings, will remain closed and cordoned off indefinitely.

The focus for students was on reconnecting with friends and teachers, and sharing their feelings.

Florida shooting: Who are the victims?

Armed school ‘marshals’

Members of Florida’s State House and Senate will soon begin reviewing proposed bills related to firearms, which need their approval and also that of Governor Rick Scott.

Among other restrictions, they would raise the legal age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and giving police more control to seize weapons from mentally ill people.

A controversial $67m voluntary programme to arm school staff, including teachers, would ensure they were trained by law enforcement and allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus, according to the New York Times.

Lawmakers had already given an initial green light to the “marshal programme”, despite protests by many parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.

They argued that educators should not have to take on the role of the police. A similar programme already exists in Polk County, in central Florida.

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