Hundred 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, following 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 protect kids from gun violence. They hope these marches will provide momentum for change ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
“I think it’s something that if any politician pushed in general, they would really have an easy time getting reelected because they would be, they would show that they’re practicing what the preach and are trying to be leaders in their own right, but right now I think in Washington, we’re not seeing that,” David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, told Weekend Edition Saturday.
The march officially began at noon, but protesters started gathering along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol building early Saturday morning, as the event’s organizers expected the turnout to exceed 500,000 participants. The event in Washington is one of more than 800 happening coast to coast to push for stricter gun laws.
Saturday’s demonstrations follow a national school walkout on March 14, 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 and the first lady were in Florida for the weekend at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach. Following 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. The Justice Department also proposed on Friday, a plan to ban bump stocks, which are devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire like a machine gun.
“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement. “Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s, which is why he urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS and STOP School Violence Acts, and signed them into law.”
Organizers of the gun control rallies hope the massive crowds and impassioned speeches from teenage activists will tap into a growing sentiment for gun control. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 69 percent of Americans think gun laws in the U.S. should be stricter, which is up from 61 percent in October 2016 and 55 percent in October 2013.
Even as momentum for tighter gun control seems to reach historical levels the AP also found that most people don’t believe politicians will take action. Student activists like Hogg say that their generation’s action will be the tipping point for change on guns.
“At the end of the day what our generation is fighting for is not only for us, the kids that are alive right now, but the future of America, we can and we will outlive our opponents because they are old and they are stuck in their old ways,” Hogg says. “We will change the face of America with or without our opponents.”