Thousands of high school students and other gun-control advocates gathered in Washington and across the U.S. Saturday to demand tougher firearms restrictions from an older generation that’s delivered little change after years of mass shootings.
Organizers said they expected more than 700,000 people to attend the March for Our Lives rally at the foot of Capitol Hill, a gathering led by survivors of the Feb. 14 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
The demonstration in Washington is meant to be the largest of more than 800 planned marches nationwide and overseas, according to leaders who organized under the Twitter hashtag #NeverAgain. Protesters are demanding protection from gun violence, including a ban on assault weapons such as the rifle used in Parkland, a prohibition on high-capacity magazines that let killers shoot long bursts without reloading, and more effective background checks for gun purchases.
The student organizers raised more than $3 million through an online GoFundMe campaign and worked with Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for universal background checks and other gun control measures. Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, which operates Bloomberg News, serves as a member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s advisory board and is a donor to the group.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement Saturday, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.” She pointed pointed to gun-safety actions this week by Congress and the Justice Department.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday announced a proposed rule to ban so-called bump stocks that allow semi-automatic guns to fire more rapidly, similar to a fully automatic weapon. A sniper in the Oct. 1 Las Vegas mass shooting used such a device to kill 58 concert-goers.
Congress also voted Friday to bolster background checks for gun purchases, spend more on school safety, and let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study gun violence, ending what was in effect a 22-year ban that was supported by the National Rifle Association.
The measures — tucked into a larger spending bill signed by President Donald Trump — marked the first congressional action in years on gun legislation. But they’re small steps compared with the 1994 assault-weapons ban that lapsed in 2004. Congress seemed poised to act after the 2012 massacre of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, but the effort failed.
The street protests and growing congressional attention mean gun control could loom large in the November midterm elections. Democrats have embraced the issue, while Republican congressional leaders and Trump haven’t moved to adopt measures such as ending assault-weapon sales. At one point Trump said he backed comprehensive gun-control measures, but he backed off after meeting with the NRA’s top lobbyist. The president also said he wanted to allow teachers and other staff members to be armed and trained to confront shooters.
Saturday’s march follows a nationwide student walkout over gun violence on March 14, the one-month mark since the Parkland killings. Another national walkout, organized by a different group of students, is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the 1999 attack at Colorado’s Columbine High School that killed 12 students and a teacher and left two dozen more injured.