WASHINGTON — Thousands of people were rallying in the nation’s capital and around the country Saturday to advocate for stricter gun control laws after a recent spate of mass shootings, including in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in a school, and in Buffalo, New York, where 10 Black people were targeted in a grocery store.
Up to 50,000 people were expected in D.C. Saturday, according to a National Park Service Permit, and protests were also planned in major cities including New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. About 300 showed up to protest in West Melbourne, Florida, and about 400 marched through Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado.
The March for Our Lives events come four years after the organization was founded by teens who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida. That year, more than 1 million people rallied in Washington.
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March for Our Lives co-founders David Hogg and X Gonzalez, lawmakers and other gun violence survivors are set to speak in Washington. New York City Mayor Eric Adams joined marchers walking across Brooklyn Bridge.
This time, things must be different, several speakers repeated. They lamented that action was not taken after Sandy Hook or after Marjory Stoneman Douglas to prevent what happened in Uvalde.
Gray, cloudy skies and light rain didn’t stop the thousands who showed up in D.C. with ponchos, umbrellas and rain jackets – including several mass shooting survivors who traveled from across the country.
Reese Allen, a 20-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivor, traveled 14 hours from Coral Springs, Florida, with his family.
“I just wanted to be out here to show my support because I was part of one myself,” Allen told USA TODAY. “I know how hard it can be for parents that everyone especially since these are little kids.”
Allen and his mother, Lisa Allen, said the Uvalde shooting – the deadliest elementary school shooting since Sandy Hook, when 20 first graders and six adults were massacred nearly a decade ago in Newtown, Connecticut – motivated them to come back to March for Our Lives.
“We remembered when we came the first time, the support of people from Sandy Hook from other shootings and how much that meant to us. And so that’s why we really thought it was important to come so that the people in Uvalde would know,” Lisa Allen said.
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As spectators arrived at the Washington Monument, they saw thousands of orange flowers in the grass, representing lives lost due to gun violence.
Several Americans who were students during the Parkland shooting are now young adults entering their early careers. Maggy Hier, 21-year-old Baltimore native, hopes to be a school teacher one day. Yet, she is left with fear of a mass shooting in her future classroom.
“I’ve wanted to be an educator my whole life,” Hier said. “I became an educator and I’m now a teacher and I do not want to lose my life in the classroom one day, protecting my children.”
Members of the National Education Association marched to show support for teachers who have lost their lives in mass shootings.
Melissa Stein, a 42-year-old educator at Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland, said she came to the march out of fear for her students and children. As a mother, Stein said she is horrified at the thought of her daughters in a mass shooting, but also the thought of experiencing one herself as a teacher.
“I’m kind of done being sad and I’m angry. It’s wrong. Our job is to teach and protect kids and we have to worry about them being killed,” Stein said.
Stein came to the march with her 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine. As a middle school student, Madeleine recalled her class sharing their lifetime goals at the beginning of the year. She then thought of the students killed whose lives were cut short and won’t be able to reach those goals.
“Every year [at school] we tell each other about their hopes and dreams and I was so sad because they had a whole life to live,” she said.