US sees largest gun control protest in a generation

Published March 25, 2018
WASHINGTON: People on the balcony at the Newseum join with protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue as they look towards the stage near the Capitol during the rally on Saturday.—AP
WASHINGTON: People on the balcony at the Newseum join with protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue as they look towards the stage near the Capitol during the rally on Saturday.—AP

WASHINGTON: Summoned to action by student survivors of the Florida school shooting, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied in the nation’s capital and cities across America on Saturday to press for gun control in one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam era.

Organisers of the ‘March for Our Lives’ rally in Washington hoped their protest would match in numbers and spirit last year’s women’s march, one of the biggest protests in the capital since the Vietnam era and one that far exceeded predictions of 300,000 demonstrators.

Bearing signs reading “We Are the Change,” “No More Silence” and “Keep NRA Money Out of Politics,” protesters packed Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol, stretching many blocks back toward the White House.

“We will continue to fight for our dead friends,” Delaney Tarr, a survivor of the Florida tragedy, declared from the stage. The crowd roared with approval as she laid down the students’ central demand: a ban on “weapons of war” for all but warriors.

US President Donald Trump was in Florida for the weekend. A motorcade took him to his West Palm Beach golf club in the morning.

“It’s pretty simple for me,” said Zoe Tate, 11, from Gaithersburg Middle School in Maryland, explaining why she marched in Washington. “I think guns are dumb. It’s scary enough with the security guards we have in school. We don’t need teachers carrying guns now. I find it amazing that I have to explain that idea to adults.”

Said her mother, Maria Blaeuer: “For our kids, feeling safe is fundamental, and they don’t feel safe.”

Large rallies also unfolded in such cities as Boston; New York; Chicago; Houston; Fort Worth, Texas; Minneapolis; and Parkland, Florida, the site of the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.

The police presence was heavy as more than 20,000 people filled a park near the Florida school, chanting slogans such as “Enough is enough” and carrying signs that read “Why do your guns matter more than our lives?” and “Our ballots will stop bullets.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA) went silent on Twitter on Saturday morning, in contrast to its reaction to the nationwide school walkouts against gun violence March 14, when it tweeted a photo of an assault rifle and the message “I’ll control my own guns, thank you.” As of early afternoon, Trump himself had yet to weigh in on Twitter about the protests.

About 30 gun-rights supporters staged a counter-demonstration in front of the FBI headquarters, standing quietly with signs such as “Armed Victims Live Longer” and “Stop Violating Civil Rights.”

Since the bloodshed in Florida, students have tapped into a current of gun control sentiment that has been building for years yet still faces a powerful foe in the NRA and its supporters. Organisers hope the passions of the crowds and the under-18 roster of speakers will translate into a tipping point starting with the midterm congressional elections this fall.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2018

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