Data News Weekly Staff Edited Reports
Hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, parents, and victims rallied in Washington, D.C., and across the country on Saturday to demand tougher gun control measures, part of a wave of political activism among students and others impacted by school shootings.
The “March for Our Lives” protest in the nation’s capital was organized by students after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.
The students are frustrated by what they say is the inaction of adults, especially politicians, who offer thoughts and prayers in the wake of school shootings but fail to pass legislation that protects kids from gun violence. They hope these marches will provide momentum for change ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections.
The march officially began at noon, but protesters started gathering along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol Building early Saturday morning; the event’s organizers expected the turnout to exceed 500,000 participants. The event in Washington was one of more than 800 coast-to-coast to push for stricter gun laws.
In the U.S. Capital, chants of “vote them out” rang out in between dozens of student speakers from elementary to high school age, including several survivors of the Parkland shooting as well as Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter. There were also performances by Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus, and Ariana Grande.
Student speakers used the national stage to call for an assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. They also called on young people to register to vote.
Saturday’s demonstrations follow a national school walkout on March 14th, exactly one month after the Parkland shooting, in which students across the country walked out of classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims in Florida.
That deadly shooting inspired a generation of youth activists, who have been raised in a time marked by gun violence, to raise awareness of a growing support for tighter gun laws, which still face powerful political opposition from gun supporters backed by the National Rifle Association.
President Trump, who was in Florida for the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago Resort, had yet to weigh in on Twitter about the protests as of Saturday evening. After the Parkland shooting, Trump held a number of listening sessions with students and even floated the idea of raising the age of gun ownership to 21 and tightening background checks. But in the end, the administration didn’t push for any bold measures. However, on Friday, the Justice Department proposed a plan to ban bump stocks, which are devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire like a machine gun.
Former President Barack Obama said on Twitter that he and Michelle Obama were “inspired” by the protests. Speaking at an event in Japan on Sunday, Barack Obama noted that the March for Our Lives events were “duplicated all around the world. And this was all because of the courage and effort of a handful of 15 and 16-year-olds.
“That’s a testimony to what happens when young people are given opportunities and I think all institutions have to think about how do we tap into that creativity and that energy and that drive,” he said. The former President also said, “A lot of our problems are caused by old men — no offense, men who are old.”
Pope Francis, without directly acknowledging the March for Our Lives, used a Sunday service to encourage young people to “shout.”
“There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive,” he said.
“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later.
“It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”
The young people in the crowd shouted, “Yes!”
While Francis did not mention Saturday’s marches in the United States, he has often condemned weapons manufacturing and mass shootings.