WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of people streamed to the National Mall for the highest-profile of countrywide demonstrations Saturday marking a renewed push for gun control 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. While that would be far less than the original 2018 march that filled downtown Washington with more than 200,000 people, they decided to focus this time 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.” A middle school-age girl carried a sign that said, “I want to feel safe at school.”
“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.”
The first march was spurred by the Feb. 14, 2018, killings of 14 students and three staff members by a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That massacre sparked the creation of the youth-led March For Our Lives movement, which successfully pressured the Republican-dominated Florida state government to enact sweeping gun control reforms.
The Parkland students then took aim at gun laws in other states and nationally, launching March for Our Lives and holding the big rally in Washington on March 24, 2018.
The group did not match the Florida results at the national level, but has persisted in advocating for gun restrictions since then, as well as participating in voter registration drives.
Now, with another string of mass shootings bringing gun control back into the national conversation, organizers of this weekend’s events say the time is right to renew their push for a national overhaul.
“Right now we are angry,” said Mariah Cooley, a March For Our Lives board member and a senior at Washington’s Howard University. “This will be a demonstration to show that us as Americans, we’re not stopping anytime soon until Congress does their jobs. And if not, we’ll be voting them out.”
The protest comes at a time of renewed political activity on guns and a crucial moment for possible action in Congress.
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 School in Uvalde, Texas. She described for 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.
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,” he said.
Associated Press writer Ian Mader in Miami contributed to this report.