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Florida students at massive D.C. rally urge strict gun laws

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the school shooting

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks during the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC, USA, 24 March 2018. Credit: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock / SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — At a massive March for Our Lives rally Saturday, students who survived the Florida high school shootings issued an urgent call to their generation: Force the powerful to pass strict guns laws to bring gun violence to an end.

David Hogg, one of several teen activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where a gunman killed 17 students and teachers, told the hundreds of thousands of teens, parents and supporters, “No more.”

His classmate Cameron Kasky said, “The people demand a law banning the sale of assault weapons. The people demand we prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines. The people demand universal background checks.”

And warning lawmakers and President Donald Trump, he added, “Stand with us or beware, the voters are coming.”

The rally in the nation’s capital aimed to draw as many as 500,000 people while more than 800 “sibling” rallies across the country filled the streets in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles and other cities.

Young people, who brandished their new or upcoming right to vote as their leverage, dominated the speeches and rallies.

The White House took note. A spokeswoman said, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.”

But the student speakers, who alternated with entertainment by stars including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato, all struck a common theme — their generation must repair what their parents and adults have left broken.

“We must stand beside those we love because America betrayed them,” Kasky said.

“This is more than just a march, this is more than just one day, one event and moving on,” said his classmate Delaney Tarr.

“This is a movement reliant on the persistence and the passion of its people,” she said. “We cannot move on. If we move on, the NRA and the people against us will win.”

In a dramatic moment, Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez spoke of her slain friends and teachers and then, in tears, stood at the microphone silent. The speech and silence lasted for the six minutes and 20 seconds it took the gunman to take their lives.

Mya Middleton, a student a North Grand High School in Chicago, spoke about the constant fear of being shot. “Chicago goes through this every day, and you can’t know how much of a toll it takes on us,” she said.

Yolanda Renee King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter, drew from the civil rights leader’s most famous words in declaring from the stage: “I have a dream that enough is enough. That this should be a gun-free world. Period.”

Students and parents from across the country, including several busloads from Long Island, came to the nation’s capital.

Shannon Lynch, 20, said she was among about 400 residents from Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, who came “to show Parkland we are with them.”

She said, “I think it’s difficult for people to want to make change unless it directly impacts them, but these shootings are becoming more frequent, and more people are being touched by gun violence.”

Lisa Richardson, a Merrick native who lives in Montgomery County, Maryland, attended with her son Matt, 21. She said when she was in college, as her son is now, the possibility of facing a mass shooting “was never a consideration.”

She added, “This has got to stop.” Her son called the rally “a call to action.”

Andy and Barbara Parker of Martinsville, Virginia, displayed a large photo of their daughter Alison Parker, a TV reporter shot to death on air in 2015.

“We’ve been fighting this fight for a while, so it’s nice to have an army behind us,” said her father. “They’ve got to vote, that’s the only way we’re going to fix this.”

Kasky and other rally organizers demanded that lawmakers choose between them and the NRA, whose political arm spent $1 million in contributions to members of Congress and $54 million on ads, many of them in support of Trump.

The NRA acknowledged students have a right to make their voices heard, but complained the views of young gun-rights supporters were shut out of the discussion.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

The gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped organize the rallies, and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, and George and Amal Clooney donated money to the event.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted support for the rallies and several Democrats attended them.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said, “Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the president’s.”

She said he backed measures to improve background checks and to offer schools grants to fight gun violence that Congress passed in the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending plan.

She also cited the Justice Department’s new rule issued Friday to ban bump stocks that turn “legal weapons into illegal machine guns.”

But Republican leaders whose majorities control both the House and Senate oppose stricter gun laws. The House in recent years has not brought up any gun restrictions for debate.

— With AP

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