Marchers from coast to coast demand action on gun control

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Teenage students gathered in Washington for the “March for Our Lives rally,” while thousands marched in Parkland, Fla., and cities around the world

Tribune News Service

An extraordinary student mobilization brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of U.S. cities Saturday to demand tougher gun laws, in a muscular display of political determination less than six weeks after the school massacre in Parkland, Fla.

Teenage students who emerged as national figures after the Feb. 14 shooting flew to Washington to address the largest “March for Our Lives rally,” while thousands marched in Parkland and cities around the world.

At many rallies, there was barely a mention of the killer, Nikolas Cruz, the expelled Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who shot 17 students and staff to death and wounded 17 more. Instead, the wrath of speakers fell on political leaders who they said had sold out to the National Rifle Association in refusing to support limits on gun ownership.

“If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking,” said David Hogg, a Stoneman Douglas senior and one of the most prominent student leaders, addressing a Washington crowd estimated by organizers at 800,000. “Inaction is no longer safe. And to that we say, ‘No more.’ Most representatives have no public stance on guns. To this we say, ‘No more.’”

“We are going to make this the voting issue. We are going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run not as politicians but as Americans. Because this is not cutting it. … When politicians send their thoughts and prayers with no action, we say, ‘No more.’”

Sarah Chadwick, a Stoneman Douglas junior, said, “This is not a red versus blue issue. It’s a moral issue. We will no longer be hunted down and treated like prey by politicians who simply don’t care about us.”

She left the stage to chants of “Vote them out!”

Among the most striking moments came when Emma Gonzalez, another of the most prominent leaders, stood in silence before the crowd, tears rolling down her cheeks for an agonizingly long time, until a timer went off.

“Since the time that I came out here, it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds,” she said. “The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”

The NRA, target of much of the protesters’ anger, posted a statement on its Facebook page accusing marchers of allowing themselves to be manipulated by opponents of the Second Amendment.

“Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous,” the NRA said. “Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to destroy the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”

There were protests in Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and dozens of other cities. Thousands marched in Union Park west of downtown Chicago, holding signs that said “Never again” and “I stand with the students.” Protests were held around the world, with dozens in Europe and a scattering of others elsewhere.

A rally in West Palm Beach attempted to get President Donald Trump’s attention by deploying along Southern Boulevard, his usual route from his golf club to his home in Palm Beach. But the president’s motorcade took a longer route Saturday, avoiding the area of the protests.

Lindsay Walters, deputy White House press secretary, issued a statement saying, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.”

At Pine Trails Park in Parkland, several thousand people gathered for a protest near the high school where the killings occurred. Students and parents held signs that attacked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and his support from the NRA. Other signs read, “Our blood, your hands,” “Can you hear us now?” and “No NRA Money.”

Rubio acknowledged their protest as “legitimate” Saturday but said they wouldn’t succeed without finding common ground with gun owners.

“While I do not agree with all of the solutions they propose, I respect their views and recognize that many Americans support certain gun bans,” he said in a written statement. “However, many other Americans do not support a gun ban. They too want to prevent mass shootings, but view banning guns as an infringement on the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens that ultimately will not prevent these tragedies.”

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, was killed in the shooting, took the stage and tried to talk about his loss.

“I would give everything to give one more second, one more hour with the sweetest boy,” he said.

Samantha Mayor, a junior who was shot in the left knee during Cruz’s assault, took the stage, her left leg in a brace.

“The need for change is long overdue,” she said.

“This ends now! We’re not going away or giving up. We’re committed to force change!” said Adam Buchwald, 16, another Stoneman Douglas student. “It’s a change movement that requires all of you.”

About 4,000 people marched through downtown Boca Raton, chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go” and “Say it loud, say it clear, violence is not welcome here.”

At their destination, the Mizner Park Amphitheater, 17 chairs with bouquets of flowers and pictures stood in front of the stage, symbolizing the people killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting.

A group of students, mostly from Atlantic High School, took turns at the microphone.

Veronica Renzette, a senior, pointing to the Second Amendment defense of gun rights, she highlighted the phrase “well-regulated,” noting “there’s nothing well-regulated about an 18-year-old with an assault weapon.”

Like the students who followed her, Renzette called for “logical,” “common sense” gun control, including age restrictions and universal background checks.

Kyle Kashuv, the Stoneman Douglas junior who met with Trump and opposes further gun restrictions, appeared on Fox News Saturday and criticized his fellow students for focusing on guns to the exclusion of the failures of the FBI, social service agencies and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

“I talked to so many marchers and they don’t have a clear-cut solution,” he said. “And it pains me not to see the government being held accountable for their failures. I don’t see anyone blaming Sheriff Scott Israel for failing to do what he was supposed to do.”

Marches on Washington, a political tactic more than a century old, has shown itself capable of helping to generate historic change. The 1963 civil rights march, culminating in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, helped build support for the civil rights and voting rights bills of 1964 and 1965. The anti-war marches of the late 1960s helped force the United States out of Vietnam. Other marches have come and gone, without yielding results.

No one knows whether Saturday’s march will generate permanent change, yielding legislation to limit ownership of assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and other equipment that makes it easier to kill many people quickly. But participants say they are acutely aware of the danger their movement could fizzle. They are focusing on November’s midterm elections, emphasizing voter registration, turnout and forcing candidates to take positions on guns.

“We’ve said time and time again, our biggest focus now is to get people to vote,” said Delaney Tarr, 17, one of the leaders of the Never Again movement, backstage after the rally “Register, educate, vote.”

The momentum will not die, she said. “We’re never giving up.”

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