NEW YORK (Guardian) -- Thousands were expected to rally in Washington DC, New York and other cities in the U.S. and around the world on Saturday, seeking to increase pressure on Congress to enact meaningful federal gun control reform following a spate of mass shootings.
The March for Our Lives rallies were planned less than a month after 10 Black people were killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two teachers were killed in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Other mass shootings, widely defined as shootings in which four people or more excluding the shooter are hurt or killed, have also helped return the issue to center stage.
March for Our Lives was formed after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, in which 14 students and three adults were killed. Organizers estimated that a million people, mostly young, joined protests then.
The group helped force the Republican Florida government to enact reforms including raising the age to buy long guns, including AR-15-style rifles, from 18 to 21; enacting a three-day gap between purchase and access; allowing trained school staff to carry guns; and putting $400 million into mental health services and school security.
Florida lawmakers also approved a “red flag law” that can deny firearms to individuals believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Organizers of Saturday’s marches were focusing on holding smaller marches at more locations. The protest in DC was expected to draw 50,000 to the Washington Monument. The 2018 march filled downtown Washington with more than 200,000 people.
“We will no longer allow you to sit back while people continue to die,” said Trevon Bosley, a board member of March for Our Lives.
Daud Mumin, co-board chair and a recent graduate of Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, said: “We want to make
sure that this work is happening across the country. This work is not just about DC, it’s not just about senators.”
Mariah Cooley, a board member, said: “Right now we are angry. This will be a demonstration to show that as Americans, we’re not stopping anytime soon until Congress does their jobs. And if not, we’ll be voting them out.”
Speaking to the Hill, Yolanda Renee King, the 13-year-old granddaughter of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, said young activists were frustrated.
“We’re all coming together because this is unacceptable and we are demanding that our politicians ban the big rifle assault weapons,” King said. “We have to reduce kids’ anxiety of just going to school and reduce people who look like me’s anxiety to go to the grocery store.”
March for Our Lives has called for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks for gun purchases and a national licensing system.
The House has passed bills that would raise the age limit to buy semi-automatic weapons and establish a federal “red flag” law. But such initiatives have traditionally stalled or been watered down in the Senate. The new marches were to take place a day after senators left Washington without reaching agreement in guns talks.
Mumin, of March for Our Lives, said the Senate was “where substantive action goes to die … 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”.
This week, mass shooting survivors brought their message to Capitol Hill. Among them was Miah Cerrillo, an 11-year-old girl who survived the attack at Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. She told members of Congress how she covered herself with a dead classmate’s blood.
Garnell Whitfield Jr, whose mother was killed in Buffalo, invited senators “to imagine the faces of your mothers as you look at the face of my mother, Mrs Ruth Whitfield … and ask yourself … is there nothing we can do?
“If there is nothing then, respectfully, senators … you should yield your positions of authority and influence to others that are willing to lead on this issue.”
The actor Matthew McConaughey appeared in the White House briefing room to press for reform and make highly personal remarks about his hometown, Uvalde.
“Responsible gun owners are fed up with the second amendment being abused and hijacked by some deranged individuals,” he said. “Regulations are not a step back; they’re a step forward for a civil society and – and the second amendment.”
Speakers at the Washington rally on Saturday were expected to include David Hogg and X González, Parkland survivors and co-founders of March for Our Lives; Becky Pringle and Randi Weingarten, presidents of the two largest U.S. teachers unions; and Yolanda King.