Thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington on Saturday to rally for stricter gun control measures in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.
Event organizers and speakers behind the March for Our Lives rally blasted Congress for failing to reach final passage on legislation that would raise the minimum age for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles and establish “red flag laws” before the Senate left town this week.
“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,” David Hogg, March for Our Lives co-founder, said referring to those students killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Two teachers were also killed in the Robb Elementary shooting.
“As we gather here today, the next shooter is already plotting his attack while the federal government pretends you can do nothing to stop it,” Mr. Hogg, who himself survived the 2018 shooting that killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida said.
Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin was killed in the Parkland shooting urged students in the crowd not to return to schools until Congress passes comprehensive gun legislation.
“We are calling for a nationwide strike of American students from all levels of education, from elementary education to college, to avoid going back to school, until our elected leaders stop avoiding the crisis of gun violence in America and start acting to save our lives,” he said.
Mr. Oliver led rallygoers in a pledge to “avoid school until our leaders pass gun laws capable of bringing safety and justice for all.”
The Democratic-controlled House voted 223-204 on Wednesday to pass a sweeping package of gun-control measures including measures to raise the minimum age to purchase most semi-automatic rifles, require background checks for buying “ghost guns,” ban high-capacity magazines and mandate safe-storage requirements for gun owners.
Senate Democrats, however, have struggled to get Republican buy-in on getting gun legislation through. Democrats need to overcome a 60-vote threshold in the evenly divided chamber.
Democrats have blamed the Republican objection to reforming gun laws on the power of the gun rights lobby in Washington. Rally attendees echoed the sentiment on Saturday.
“I think there are people within Congress, primarily Republicans, who are bowing to the NRA that have [blocked] any progress. And I think that will continue, unfortunately, until we start voting these people out,” said Judy Jennings, from Ohio, who attended Saturday’s event in Washington.
Ms. Jennings said Congress should ban AR-15s and implement background checks for gun purchases.
“Start using common sense,” she said. “Stop bending to the NRA and what their needs are, and bend to what the needs of the nation are. “It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating.”
“We are catering to a very small segment of society that believes the Second Amendment is absolute,” she said. “It is not absolute, and anybody who tries to argue it is shouldn’t be in office. They should be voted out.”
Saturday’s rally was interrupted by an incident in which a man reportedly jumped barricades surrounding the event’s main stage sending hundreds running for safety before event organizers calmed the crowd.
“One person got scared, two people, four people, and that just became a stampede because everyone’s tense,” said Eric Schruefer, 23, who was near the stage at the time of the incident. “Some people are expecting something. Before I knew it people were just running at me and I started moving away too.”
U.S. Park Police Spokesman Sgt. Thomas Twiname said no others were detained and that an investigation is ongoing. He did not identify the suspect.
March for Our Lives organized similar rallies in more than 400 cities across the U.S. on Saturday.