March for gun control takes over Washington

March for gun control takes over Washington
© Greg Nash

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flood the nation's capital on Saturday for the “March for Our Lives” to support tougher gun controls and protest Congress's refusal to consider them.

Organizers received a National Park Service permit for 500,000 people, an audience to rival enormous demonstrations like the “Women’s March” staged in Washington the day after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE’s inauguration.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., organized and inspired the event after a gunman killed 17 of their classmates and members of the school faculty on Valentine’s Day.

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The killings re-energized the movement for gun control, creating activists out of young student survivors who have harnessed the power of social media to bring global attention to their cause.

“We students have become victims of our government’s glaring inaction, but never again,” Demitri Hoth, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, said Friday at the Capitol. “We have come here today to hold accountable politicians and their disturbing inaction.

“Never again will our voices — students' voices — be shunned into silence.”

The young advocates have a tough road ahead, facing fierce resistance from a Republican-led Congress and the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), both of which have resisted tougher gun laws for years. While the Florida killings had prompted Trump to sound early calls for new gun limits, there was little appetite for such reforms among GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. And Trump has since backed off his initial push for significant restrictions.

Saturday’s march is designed to keep the movement's momentum from petering out. 

“I don’t think these students are going to take no for an answer,” Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls GOP in striking distance to retake Franken seat MORE (D-Minn.) said Friday. “This march isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.” 

The student protests have already had some immediate impact on the congressional debate. The $1.3 trillion omnibus that Trump signed into law on Friday includes efforts to bolster background checks before gun sales and empower federal researchers to study gun violence as a public health issue.

But gun reformers in and out of Congress say it’s not enough.

“Those are baby steps,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“It’s not even nibbling around the edges, what they did,” said Rep. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonMcCarthy joins push asking Trump for more wildfire aid in California California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress House Dems press Trump on bump stocks ban MORE (D-Calif.), who heads the Democrats’ gun-violence prevention task force. “It’s something, but it’s not a lot.”

Young activists have been blunt in speaking of their disappointment, while accusing the adults who lead the country of cowardice.

“Students are stepping up to the NRA because our elected officials are afraid to,” Antiqua Flint, a 15-year-old high school student from Minneapolis said Friday during a press briefing outside the Capitol. “The solution to violence is not more guns. We need to pass sensible laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands.”

Supporters of gun control hope their march on Saturday will lend new force behind their cause.

In a press conference this week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the event is scheduled to take place on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Northwest part of the city between 3rd Street and 12th Street from noon to 3 p.m. It will end a few blocks shy of the White House.

Pop stars Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Vic Mensa and Andra Day are all scheduled to take the stage.

Broadway star Ben Platt and "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda are also expected to perform. The duo donated a portion of the proceeds from their new mashup song “Found/Tonight” to the march.

Other celebrities have also contributed. The Washington Post reported Oprah Winfrey and George and Amal Clooney each donated $500,000 to the march. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft flew Parkland survivors and victims’ families to D.C. on the team’s plane, The Boston Globe reported.

Watts said that over 800 “sibling marches” are planned around the world.

Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchHouse panels set up to probe indicted GOP Reps. Collins, Hunter Ivanka Trump on mass shooting: 'Our hearts are with Jacksonville' Top Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign MORE, a Florida Democrat who represents Parkland, said the march “will remind people that universal background checks, that have the support of over 90 percent of the American people, need to have a vote on the floor of the House and Senate."

“This is the defining issue for them and their generation,” he added, referring to the student protesters. “This is not a march that they’re going to participate in and then go back to their regular lives.”

If Congress doesn’t take action this year, organizers also hope their efforts will result in change at the ballot box — where gun rights supporters have seemed to have more muscle than those on the other side of the divide.

Watts said Saturday’s march marks the beginning of a months-long push leading up to the midterm elections to educate voters about where their lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels stand on gun control. 

“This march is a way to get Americans off the sidelines,” she said, “but it’s now on them to join this army of volunteers, who are fighting in our state houses and corporate boardrooms, to change laws and policies.”