“As we gather here today, the next shooter is already plotting his attack while the federal government pretends it can do nothing to stop it,” David Hogg, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, told a crowd of tens of thousands in the US capital, Washington, on Saturday.
The event, which featured speeches from other survivors, the families of victims and educators, drew an estimated 50,000 attendees, according to the organisers, March for Our Lives. The group was founded by Hogg and other children from the school in Parkland, Florida, to advocate for stricter gun control.
Parkland shooting survivor, David Hogg, said the killings of children in Uvalde ‘should fill us with rage’
Addressing the crowd near the Washington Monument, he urged the crowd to imagine seeing the name of a loved one appear on the ever-growing list of gun violence victims in the US.
“This time is different,” Hogg said, before asking the crowd to chant the sentence repeatedly.
Simultaneous protests look place in around 450 locations across the US, calling for an end to inaction from political leaders.
The marches followed deadly mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers, and a supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 people dead, as well as a shooting at a Taiwanese-American church in Southern California, in which one person was killed and five injured. All those events took place within one month.
“I speak as a mayor, a mom, and I speak for millions of Americans and America’s mayors who are demanding that Congress do its job. And its job is to protect us, to protect our children from gun violence,” Mayor Muriel Bowser told protestors in Washington. “Enough is enough.”
Re-living the fear
During a moment of silence held for the Uvalde shooting victims, a loud voice pierced through the calm, causing panic among the crowd. People in the front reported hearing the word “gun” and dozens ducked to the ground, while others fled in fear.
“I saw other people running, and people telling others to run. So I ran,” Milton Gardner, a 23-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University, told DW. “It gave me a flash of how … every second of the day is a risk in this country, no matter where you are and what you are doing.”
Gardner added that he had been afraid to even attend the rally after the Buffalo shooting.
“Everybody hit the ground and I was just standing there because I was in shock,” said Margaret Tice, a 63-year-old teacher from West Virginia.
“This woman in front of me broke down and she was sobbing on the ground. It’s real. People are fearful of that every day,” she added.
A man obscuring his his face with a US flag scarf and dark sunglasses sparked fury by unfurling a large banner reading “Guns’n’bacon.”
March for Our Lives supporters quickly blocked the banner from view with their signs calling for gun control, before the man was escorted away by police.
Stephanie Birch, a university librarian, covered the word “guns” on the banner with black tape.
“When you have a protest you can expect agitators,” the 33-year-old, who flew to the protest from Florida, told DW. “Fortunately there was no violence, and he had no gun. I think that’s something a lot of us have been worried about — the possibility of a shooting happening here today.”
House passes new gun controls, but Senate holds out
On Wednesday, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a sweeping set of gun safety measures, but the legislation has little to no chance of advancing in the Senate, where Democrats would need the support of 10 Republicans for the requisite super majority.
Republicans there believe gun limits violate the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.
At the Washinton rally, Hogg led the crowd in chants of “vote them out,” referring to Republican politicians.
“This time is different because this isn’t about politics. It’s about morality. Not right and left, but right and wrong, and that doesn’t just mean thoughts and prayers. That means courage and action,” Yolanda King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., said.
Rallies also took place in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
In New York, the state’s Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association, joined activists crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Nothing happens in this country until young people stand up, not politicians,” James said.
Hundreds gathered at an amphitheater in Parkland, where Debra Hixon, whose husband, high school athletic director Chris Hixon, died in the Buffalo shooting, said it is “all too easy” for young men to walk into stores and buy weapons.
President Biden ‘mildly optimistic’ about reform
President Joe Biden backed the protests, urged demonstrators to “keep marching” and added that he was “mildly optimistic” about legislative negotiations to address gun violence.
A bipartisan group of Senators had hoped to reach an agreement this week on a framework for addressing the issue and held talks Friday, though they have yet to conclude a deal.
March For Our Lives has called for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks for those trying to purchase guns, and a national licensing system that would register gun owners.
At the same time, opponents of tougher regulations have sought to cast mass shootings as primarily a mental health issue, not one of access to firearms.
More than 19,300 people have died in gun-related incidents in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. More than half of those deaths are due to suicide.
lo/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)