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Hundreds Of Thousands March For Gun Control Across The U.S.

Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler of Alexandria, Va., was among the young people who rallied the crowd in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler of Alexandria, Va., was among the young people who rallied the crowd in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Updated on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. ET

Hundreds 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, part of 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 re-elected because they would be, they would show that they're practicing what they 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; the event's organizers expected the turnout to exceed 500,000 participants. The event in Washington was one of more than 800 coast to coast to push for stricter gun laws.

In the U.S. capital, chants of "vote them out" rang out in between dozens of student speakers from elementary to high school age, including several survivors of the Parkland shooting as well as Martin Luther King Jr.'s granddaughter. There were also performances by Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande.

Student speakers used the national stage to call for an assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. They also called on young people to register to vote.

"Politicians either represent the people or cannot," said Cameron Kasky, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who survived the shooting. "Stand for us, or beware, the voters are coming."

To close out the rally, Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor who has become one of the main faces of this movement, delivered an impassioned speech in which she named each of the 17 victims. Then, as tears streamed down her face, Gonzalez defiantly held the stage in silence for the duration of more than six minutes, the amount of time the gunman carried out his deadly assault on her high school. Protesters chanted "never again." Then, a timer beeped.

"Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds," Gonzalez 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."

This is a satellite image of the "March for Our Lives" rally in Washington, D.C. (DigitalGlobe)

Edna Chavez, a 17-year-old from south Los Angeles who lost her brother Ricardo to gun violence when he was in high school, prompted the D.C. crowd to chant his name. "It is normal to see flowers honoring the lives of black and brown youth that have lost their lives to a bullet," Chavez said.

Meanwhile in her hometown, thousands rallied in downtown L.A., marching from Pershing Square to Grand Park. Featured speakers included Mayor Eric Garcetti and comedian Amy Schumer. Garcetti laid out California's bans on assault rifles and other gun control measures as a model for federal legislation. "We stand together for your senselessly slain classmates and friends and say this has to stop!" Schumer, a cousin of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) who also attended the event, said in support of the Parkland shooting survivors.

Elsewhere, demonstrators in Chicago focused on the daily violence young people face in a city long plagued by deadly shootings. In a packed Union Park, speakers called for greater investment in communities and schools, reports member station WBEZ's Linda Lutton. Activist Amina Henderson said Chicago's youth stand in solidarity with the Parkland students, but that "Gun control is not the only thing that we need. We need things to prevent these things from happening."

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, who was in Florida for the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort, had yet to weigh in on Twitter about the protests as of Saturday evening. After 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. However, on Friday, the Justice Department proposed a plan to ban bump stocks, which are devices that allow a semiautomatic 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."

Former President Barack Obama said on Twitter that he and Michelle Obama were "inspired" by the protests. Speaking at an event in Japan on Sunday, Barack Obama noted that the March for Our Lives events were "duplicated all around the world. And this was all because of the courage and effort of a handful of 15 and 16 year olds.

"That's a testimony to what happens when young people are given opportunities and I think all institutions have to think about how do we tap into that creativity and that energy and that drive," he said. The former president also said that "a lot of our problems are caused by old men — no offense, men who are old."

Pope Francis, without directly acknowledging the March for Our Lives, used a Sunday service to encourage young people to "shout."

Reuters reports:

" 'There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive,' he said.

" 'Dear young people, you have it in you to shout," he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later.

" 'It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?'

"The young people in the crowd shouted, 'Yes!'

"While Francis did not mention Saturday's marches in the United States, he has often condemned weapons manufacturing and mass shootings."

In Washington, D.C., Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez held the stage for more than six minutes, the amount of time the gunman carried out his deadly assault on her high school. (Jim Watson /AFP/Getty Images)

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, 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 David 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."

Photos: Hundreds of Thousands March For Gun Control Across The U.S.

Susan Getis, 17 (from left), Leyla Kolbai, 17, and Jilian Donahue, 18, are all seniors at Riverside High School in Leesburg, Va. (Tyrone Turner/WAMU)
Isabelle Braeske, 12, and Madelaine Province, 11, listen to "March for Our Lives" speakers after a march through downtown St. Louis. (Carolina Hidalgo/St. Louis Public Radio)
Students from Clayton High School get ready for the "March for Our Lives" event in downtown St. Louis. (Carolina Hidalgo/St. Louis Public Radio)
Abby Keller, 15, uses black lipstick to write "we call BS" on 15-year-old Kendra Walker's face. They are both from Fauquier County, Va. (Tyrone Turner/WAMU)
Mitali Sharma (center) marches with Clayton High School classmates in downtown St. Louis. (Carolina Hidalgo/St. Louis Public Radio)
Protesters and speakers at the massive Washington, D.C., rally called for an assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. (Tyrone Turner/WAMU)
Students from all over Massachusetts and New England lead a large march down Columbus Avenue in Boston. (Meredith Nierman /WGBH)
In Boston, protesters marched from Madison Park high school in Roxbury to the Boston Common. (Meredith Nierman /WGBH)
Organizers of Boston's march say that although Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, it's not enough. (Meredith Nierman /WGBH)
The march in Washington stretched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Trump International Hotel (the tower-like structure at left in the distance). (Tyrone Turner/WAMU)
Teens got creative with their signs at the Philadelphia "March for Our Lives". (Emily Cohen/WHYY)
Saida Dahir, a 17-year-old junior, performs her slam poetry on the steps of Utah's Capitol. (Kelsie Moore/KUER)
Jesse Pettibone, 23 (center), participates in the Seattle "March for Our Lives." "I'm here today because youth, queer people and people of color are often the victims of gun violence, and we need to disarm that hate now," Pettibone said. (Megan Farmer /KUOW)

Student protesters gather outside West High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

(Kelsie Moore/KUER)
8,000 Utahns protest outside the Capitol. (Kelsie Moore/KUER)

Photos: Hundreds of Thousands March For Gun Control Across The U.S.

Young activists stand before marching during the March for Our Lives rally in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students hold their fists up in the air as they participate in the March For Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park before walking to the high school in Parkland, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Kashyia Smith, 12, from Wisconsin, poses for a photo in front of the White House. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
School children hold placards during a rally to show solidarity with U.S. students in their attempt to end gun violence in America, in central Sydney, Australia. (Reuters Staff/Reuters)
Gun reform advocates line Pennsylvania Avenue while attending the March for Our Lives rally. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler of Alexandria, Va., was among the young people who rallied the crowd in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
People on the balcony at the Newseum cheer the protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue as they look toward the stage near the Capitol in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
People take part in the "March for Our Lives" rally outside the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)
Protesters stage a "die-in" during a demonstration in favor of tighter gun control in the United States, outside the U.S. Embassy in London. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (center left) and student organizers lead the "March for Our Lives" in downtown Houston. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)
A student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed in a shooting last month, joins the protest in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Protesters line Pennsylvania Avenue during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington on Saturday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
The gun control protests went international: Demonstrators hold up signs outside the U.S. Embassy in London. (Stefan Rousseau/AP)
Hundreds of thousands of people came to Washington to send a message to politicians on every level. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Taurica Haskins (left) is comforted by her husband, Alden Haskins Jr., as they arrive at the Washington rally. They were among those attending in memory of Jamahri Sydnor, 17, who was killed by a stray bullet in Washington, D.C., in August 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Many students and parents traveled to Washington from Parkland, Fla. It was the shooting there at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that sparked the recent gun control activism. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
The crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington held many signs with one common message: "Never again." (Alex Brandon/AP)

People of all ages attend the Washington rally, which was organized by students frustrated by what they say is the inaction of adults.

(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold pictures of victims of gun violence as thousands of people take to the streets in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Demonstrators turn out for a Cincinnati protest, one of more than 800 coast to coast on Saturday. (John Minchillo/AP)

Copyright NPR 2019.

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