Thousands of people have rallied on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and across the US, as part of a renewed push for nationwide gun controls following the recent massacre of students and teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Speaker after speaker in Washington on Saturday called on US senators, who are seen as a major impediment to stricter gun legislation, to act or face being voted out of office.
“Enough is enough,” District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser told the anti-gun rally.
“I speak as a mayor, a mom, and I speak for millions of Americans and America’s mayors who are demanding that Congress do its job. And its job is to protect us, to protect our children from gun violence.”
More than 450 rallies were scheduled, including events in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to March for Our Lives, a gun safety group founded by student survivors of a 2018 massacre at a high school in Florida.
The group’s 2018 march on Washington, just weeks after 17 people were killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, brought more than 200,000 people to the US capital to pressure Congress to enact sweeping reforms – though Republican opposition has prevented any new limits on guns from passing the US Senate.
“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 in Parkland.
“This time is different,” Hogg said, leading the crowd in a chant.
He later led the crowd in chants of “Vote them out.”
Motivated to demonstrate following a recent surge in mass shootings, from Uvalde, Texas to Buffalo, New York, protesters are calling on lawmakers to take note of shifting public opinion and pass legislation aimed at curbing gun violence.
The May 24 attack in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers took place just 10 days after another gunman murdered 10 Black people in a Buffalo grocery store in a racist attack.
It is “all too easy” for young men to walk into stores and buy weapons, said Debra Hixon, whose husband, high school athletic director Chris Hixon, died in the Parkland school shooting.
“Going home to an empty bed and an empty seat at the table is a constant reminder that he is gone,” said 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.”
US President Joe Biden, who was in California when the Washington rally began, said his message to the demonstrators was “keep marching”, adding that he is “mildly optimistic” about legislative negotiations to address gun violence.
“Right now, we are angry,” said Mariah Cooley, a March For Our Lives board member.
“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,” Cooley said.
In the Brooklyn borough of 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 on a march towards the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Nothing happens in this country until young people stand up – not politicians,” James said.
Among other policies, members of March for Our Lives have called for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks for those trying to buy guns, and a national licensing system, which would register all gun owners.
In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators have pledged to hammer out a deal, though they have yet to reach an agreement on new gun legislation.
Their efforts are focused on relatively modest changes, such as incentivising states to pass “red flag” laws that allow authorities to keep guns from individuals deemed a danger to others.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a sweeping set of gun safety measures. That legislation, however, has no chance of advancing in the Senate, where Republicans have opposed gun limits as infringing upon the US Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Survivors of mass shootings and other victims 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 school shooting in Uvalde. She told legislators how she covered herself with a dead classmate’s blood to avoid being killed.
On Tuesday, Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey appeared at the White House briefing room to press for gun legislation and made highly personal remarks about the violence in his hometown of Uvalde.