Thousands of Gun Control Supporters Rally in Washington, Cities Around World

Thousands of people converged on Washington and other U.S. cities Saturday to rally for tougher gun laws following a recent deadly mass shooting that sparked outrage and political activism among young people across the country.

The “March for Our Lives” demonstrations, led by survivors of the February 14 massacre of 17 students and personnel at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people. The main rally in the nation’s capital is expected to draw as many as a 500,000 people, according to student organizing groups and the gun-control group Everytown For Gun Safety.

More than 800 sister marches have been planned in each of the 50 U.S. states and worldwide.

Student organizers are demanding that children’s lives are made a higher priority for the country and an end to the epidemic of mass school shootings. 

Alex Wind, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, got the crowd in the nation’s capital energized, saying, “To those saying teenagers can’t do anything, I am here to say teenagers are the only ones who could have made this movement possible.”

Wind said the government “has been useless” on the issue of gun control “for too long.”

Zion Kelly, a student in Washington, D.C., spoke about his twin brother, Zaire, was shot and killed during an attempted robbery on the street in September 2017.

Zion Kelly spoke on behalf of those students who face the threat of gun violence every time they walk to and from school. The Kelly family is proposing legislation, to be named after Zaire, to create safe passage zones to and from schools and other activities.

He became emotional talking about losing his twin and people in the crowd shouted support and cheered him. “My name is Zion Kelly and just like you, I’ve had enough,” he said in ending his speech.

Gun rights advocates also are among the throngs of demonstrators in Washington.

A man who wanted to be identified only as “Joe” from upstate New York told VOA in front of the Trump International Hotel just blocks from the White House, “This whole march … is just an emotional reaction to something that is very tragic.”

He said gun control proposals, such as banning semi-automatic weapons like the one used in the Parkland shooting, are not “going to reduce gun violence, it’s just going to take away the rights of law abiding citizens.”

President Donald Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida during the Washington rally, but White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today. Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s, which is why he urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS and STOP School Violence Acts, and signed them into law.”

Walters also noted the Department of Justice moved to ban bump stocks Friday through regulations by issuing a proposed rule that would define

machine gun” to include the devices, which allows semi-automatic guns to function like automatic guns.

David Hogg, a student at the Florida high school that suffered the mass shooting, spoke at a rally in Parkland Saturday morning. He described an effort by the students — parentspromisetokids.org — in which parents and children enter into a pact where the parents will only vote for legislators whose priorities are “children’s safety over guns.”

“Let me be clear, a thumbs up, a like on Facebook, or even a follow on Twitter is not enough. We need your uploaded pictures of you and your families with signed contracts posted and shared on Facebook, and #PPTK, and retweets on Twitter. Anything less will be failing our mission. This is not an awareness movement, it’s a change movement that requires action on all of you,” Hogg said.

Americans have been reluctant to give up their guns and there have been few changes in gun laws in response to mass shootings.  

A new poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates, however, that sentiment may be changing. The poll found that 69 percent of Americans surveyed now think gun laws should be tightened, up from 61 percent in in October, 2016 and 55 percent in October 2013.

Overall the survey indicated 90 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of gun owners now favor stricter gun control laws.

But nearly half of Americans, the poll revealed, do not expect their politicians to take action toward changing gun laws.

Student activists, however, have begun concentrating on voter registration with mid-term congressional elections coming up in the fall.

The March for Our Lives website reports that it has almost reached its goal of raising $3.8 million.

Actor George Clooney and wife, Amal Clooney, a lawyer, gave March For Our Lives a $500,000 donation, which was matched by actress and TV host Oprah Winfrey, director Steven Spielberg and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres and photo publishing service Shutterfly announced a joint donation of $50,000. Model Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend, a musician, pledged $25,000.

The Clooneys, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, singers Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, and actors Jennifer Hudson, Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen have all expressed intentions of attending Saturday’s march in Washington.

Moves to tighten U.S. gun laws are traditionally opposed by the National Rifle Association, the country’s preeminent group of gun rights supporters.

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