The National Council of Churches in the US has called on lawmakers to "shake off fear of the gun lobby" and act to ensure high-powered weapons are taken off the streets in the wake of Wednesday's school shooting which has left 17 dead.

In a statement, the council said they wept for the 17 lives lost in the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and that they held "the families and friends of the victims in our hearts and prayers".

But the statement added: "There is no way a troubled teenager should have had access to an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and what was described as ‘countless magazines’ full of high-powered bullets. Even as we mourn this unnecessary loss of life, we call on our lawmakers to shake off fear of the gun lobby, distractions of other legislative matters, and the paralysis of hyper-partisanship and take action to ensure universal background checks be enacted and high powered weapons be taken off the streets of our nation. After yet another mass shooting in our country, isn’t it about time to act?"

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for people to unite in prayer for "the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence in these last weeks and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace".

"I pray also for unity in seeking to build toward a society with fewer tragedies caused by senseless gun violence," he said.

The school shooting - one of the worst mass shootings in the US in modern times and the 18th school shooting in the US so far this year - took place on Wednesday afternoon as students were preparing to go home. Seventeen people have been confirmed dead with numerous others injured.

Police arrested a former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, shortly after. He has since been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

US President Donald Trump, tweeting his condolences in the wake of the shooting, said "No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school".