Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington and other U.S. cities Saturday to rally for tougher gun laws following a recent mass shooting that sparked outrage and political activism among young people across the country.
Many students from Parkland, Florida, where a shooter killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, came to Washington to encourage other young people to stand up for gun control, and to urge people 18 and older to vote for lawmakers who do.
One of the most outspoken Parkland students, Emma Gonzales, spoke to the crowd of thousands in Washington Saturday about the loss of a good friend and her determination to make a difference.
And then, she stopped speaking. She stayed silent, tears streaming down her face, while those listening to her chanted, waited uncertainly, or began to cry themselves.
At the end of her long silence, Gonzales said: “It has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”
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Protest in Atlanta
In Atlanta, Georgia, tens of thousands of people, including more students from Parkland, marched carrying signs saying “Protect Kids, Not Guns,” and “Vote Them Out.”
Civil rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis marched, too, wearing a large red letter “F” pinned to his clothes. He said it was the grade, on a scale of A to F, that the National Rifle Association gave him for supporting gun control.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and several members of the state Legislature also attended the Atlanta rally.
In New York City, former Beatles member Paul McCartney attended the rally, telling CNN, “One of my best friends was killed in gun violence right around here, so it’s important to me.” McCartney was referring to his former bandmate John Lennon, who was shot to death in 1980 outside his New York City apartment building.
The organizers of the march say about 800 marches took place around the country and across the world, including Tokyo, Berlin and Paris, where Americans living abroad turned out to support their countrymen at home.
Gun enthusiasts march, too
The gun control marches were met in some places with objectors.
A man who wanted to be identified only as “Joe” from upstate New York spoke to 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. He added that gun control proposals are not “going to reduce gun violence, it’s just going to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Hundreds of gun enthusiasts marched in Salt Lake City Saturday, calling for better protections for schools and for arming teachers. They turned up in Phoenix, Arizona, as well, challenging the gun-control activists to debate the issue.
Rubio releases statement
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, whose district includes the Parkland, Florida, high school where last month’s shooting took place, has been criticized by the Parkland students for accepting more than $3 million in political contributions from the NRA. On Saturday, he released a statement welcoming the demonstrations, but added, “Making a change requires finding common ground with those who hold opposing views.”
President Donald Trump, who has not commented on Saturday’s demonstrations, is spending the weekend at his vacation home in Florida, less than an hour’s drive from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In Palm Beach
Hundreds of protesters in Palm Beach lined up along the route Trump’s motorcade usually takes from his golf club to his vacation home, Mar-a-Lago, on Saturday. But his motorcade took a detour, avoiding the demonstrators.
The Palm Beach Post reports the detour also avoided a large billboard installed along the motorcade route last week that calls for the president’s impeachment.
Meanwhile, 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.”
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 thought gun laws should be tightened, up from 61 percent 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 favored stricter gun control laws.
But nearly half of Americans, the poll revealed, do not expect their politicians to change gun laws.