Thousands of people streamed to the National Mall for the highest-profile of countrywide demonstrations Saturday, June 11, marking a renewed push for gun control in the United States after recent mass shootings from Uvalde, Texas, to Buffalo, New York, that activists say should compel Congress to act.
Organizers hoped the second March for Our Lives rally would draw as many as 50,000 people to the Washington Monument, though the crowd seemed closer to 30,000. The 2018 event attracted more than 200,000 people, but the focus this time was on smaller marches at an estimated 300 locations.
Despite rain in the nation’s capital, scores turned out on the monument grounds well before the rally began, holding up signs, including one that said “Children aren’t replaceable, senators are. Vote.”
“We want to make sure that this work is happening across the country,” said Daud Mumin, co-chairman of the march’s board of directors and a recent graduate of Westminster College in Salt Lake City. “This work is not just about D.C., it’s not just about senators.”
Speaker after speaker in Washington called on senators, who are seen as a major impediment to legislation, to act or face being voted out of office, especially given the shock to the nation’s conscience after 19 children and two teachers were killed May 24 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
‘Vote them out’
“If our government can’t do anything to stop 19 kids from being killed and slaughtered in their own school, and decapitated, it’s time to change who is in government,” said David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 shooting that killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
A co-founder of the March For Our Lives organization that was created after that shooting and held its first rally in Washington not long afterward, Hogg led the crowd in chants of “Vote them out.”
Another Parkland survivor and group co-founder, X Gonzalez, delivered an impassioned, profanity-laced plea to Congress for change. “We are being murdered,” they screamed and implored Congress to “act your age, not your shoe size.”
‘This time is different’
Added Yolanda King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr.: “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.”
Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, was killed in the Parkland shooting, called on students “to avoid going back to school until our elected leaders stop avoiding the crisis of gun violence in America and start acting to save our lives.”
Hundreds gathered at an amphitheater in Parkland, where Debra Hixon, whose husband, high school athletic director Chris Hixon, died in the shooting, said it is “all too easy” for young men to walk into stores and buy weapons. “Going home to an empty bed and an empty seat at the table is a constant reminder that he is gone,” said Mrs. Hixon, who now serves as a school board member. “We weren’t done making memories, sharing dreams and living life together. Gun violence ripped that away from my family.”
In San Antonio, about 85 miles east of Uvalde, marchers chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go.” A man who said he helped to organize the rally, Frank Ruiz, called for gun reform laws similar to those enacted in Florida after the Parkland shooting that focused on raising the age for purchasing certain firearms and flagging those with mental health issues.
Biden ‘mildly optimistic’
President Joe Biden, who was in California when the Washington rally began, said his message to demonstrators was “keep marching” and added that he is “mildly optimistic” about legislative negotiations to address gun violence. Biden recently delivered an impassioned address to the nation in which he called for several steps, including raising the age limit for buying assault-style weapons.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams, who campaigned on reining in violence in the nation’s largest city, joined state Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing the National Rifle Association, in leading activists across the Brooklyn Bridge. “Nothing happens in this country until young people stand up — not politicians,” Letitia James said.
Joining the call for change were hundreds of people who rallied in a park outside the courthouse in Portland, Maine, before they marched through the Old Port and gathered outside City Hall. At one point, they chanted, “Hey, hey, hey, NRA. How many kids did you kill today?”
John Wuesthoff, a retired lawyer in Portland, said he was waving an American flag during the rally as a reminder that gun control is “not un-American.” “It’s very American to have reasonable regulations to save the lives of our children,” he said.
‘We shouldn’t live in fear that we’re going to be shot at’
Hundreds of protesters in Milwaukee marched from the county courthouse to the city’s Deer District, where last month 21 people were injured in shootings on the night of an NBA playoff game. Organizer Tatiana Washington, whose aunt was killed by gun violence in 2017, said this year’s march is particularly significant to Milwaukee residents. “A lot of us are still very heavily thinking about the mass shooting that occurred after the Bucks game,” Ms. Washington said. “We shouldn’t be scared to go watch our team in the playoffs and live in fear that we’re going to be shot at.”
The passion that the issue stirs was clear in Washington when a young man jumped the barricade and tried to rush onto the stage before being intercepted by security. The incident caused a brief panic as people began to scatter.
The youth-led movement created after the Parkland shooting successfully pressured the Republican-dominated Florida state government to enact sweeping gun control changes. The group did not match that at the national level, but has persisted in advocating for gun restrictions since then, as well as participating in voter registration drives.
Survivors of mass shootings and other incidents of gun violence have lobbied legislators and testified on Capitol Hill this week. Among them was Miah Cerrillo, an 11-year-old girl who survived the shooting at Robb Elementary. She described to lawmakers how she covered herself with a dead classmate’s blood to avoid being shot.
On Tuesday, actor Matthew McConaughey appeared in the White House briefing room to press for gun legislation and made highly personal remarks about the violence in his hometown of Uvalde.
The House has passed bills that would raise the age limit to buy semi-automatic weapons and establish federal “red flag” laws. But such initiatives have traditionally stalled or been heavily watered down in the Senate. Democratic and Republican senators had hoped to reach agreement this week on a framework for addressing the issue and talked Friday, but they had not announced an accord.
Mr. Mumin said the goal is to send a message to lawmakers that public opinion on gun control is shifting under their feet.
“If they’re not on our side, there are going to be consequences – voting them out of office and making their lives a living hell when they’re in office.”