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The crowd at the first-ever March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images)

The Aftermath

March For Our Lives: Student-Led Protests Against Gun Violence Draw Hundreds of Thousands

Crowds across the country took to the streets to demand stronger gun laws.

Compiled and produced by Beatrix Lockwood

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in Washington, D.C., in cities and towns across the country, and in countries around the world to demand action on gun violence.

The demonstrations came more than a month after 17 people were killed and at least 17 wounded at a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The protests were part of the March for Our Lives, a march and rally organized largely by the Parkland students who survived the shooting.

Below, we share developments and interviews from the nationwide protests.

Highlights from the march:

The crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue before the
On Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon]

“I feel very hopeful”

For many of the students who descended on the National Mall, the protests started before Saturday.

“I participated in one of the walkouts,” Stella Shipman, a student at Easton High School in Pennsylvania who traveled to D.C. for the march, told The Trace. “We shouldn’t have to feel unsafe in our schools, it’s just a really bad thing to feel. It’s a place of safety. That’s what it should be.”

Angela Malley graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2006, and now lives in Baltimore.

“A lot of our alumni, they all rallied right after the massacre happened,” Malley said. “We all got together. We have a group of almost 12,000 alumni that have organized all around the world. So, it just shows the strength of our community, and we’re also just so grateful be supported by the entire world.”

Doug Edwards is a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parent who’s had three children graduate from the school, and a daughter who was a teacher there.

“This is very personal,” he said.

Edwards said his generation knows protests, but they’re being inspired anew by the teen-led movement to enact gun-reform measures.

“Hopeful,” Edwards said. “I grew up in the sixties, and I remember protesting Vietnam and Nixon and all of the things that were the woes of the time. For a long time, I felt a lack of hope, and now with these kids, I feel very hopeful.”

— Matt Laslo

The Parkland leaders’ policy goals

The student organizers have advanced five specific policy demands, which they laid out in an online petition and in testimony at a hearing held by Senate Democrats. The gun reform platform includes:

  1. Mandating universal background checks
  2. Banning high-capacity ammunition magazines
  3. Banning assault-style weapons
  4. Funding federal gun violence research
  5. Digitizing gun purchase records, so crime guns are easier to trace

We’ve broken down the Parkland students’ prescriptions for gun safety in this explainer.

Marchers share their motivations.

We asked readers to tell us what’s motivating them to join the marches.

We heard from family of the deceased, marching to honor their loved ones: “I will be attending and speaking to honor my 14-year-old niece Jaime Guttenberg who was killed in the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting. I will be speaking about gun violence, changing the leadership of the NRA and lack of leadership at the Federal Government to correct the issue of gun violence.” — Paul G., Marching in Huntington, New York.

Survivors told us how their experiences have motivated them to act: “I’m marching as a survivor of a gun crime to demand that Congress passes the bill to ban assault weapons, to support the students in Parkland, to honor the victims and survivors of gun violence, and to show the NRA how many people value lives over money.” — Pam Impson, Marching in San Diego.

Some gun-owners told us why they’re joining in: “I’m a long time gun owner, and have enjoyed them my entire life, especially growing up. I definitely have a strong connection to my father through them. While I haven’t felt the negative impact of guns in my life, I’ve been slow to rise up and challenge the gun industry and pro-gun mindset. I’m ready to take them on now!” – Lawrence Walters, Marching in Chicago

For many, the issue was personal: “Two of my younger siblings have survived school shootings, in different states, 12 years apart. My sister was a freshman at Platte Canyon High School in 2006, and my brother is currently a junior at Stoneman Douglas. Both times were a terrifying experience for our whole family. This insanity has to stop.” – Natasha Paz, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Marching in Parkland

For others, it was a show of solidarity: “The young people driving this march need the numbers of their elders to show up. They are the energy. We must provide the mass.” – Jeff Hurt, Kansas City, Missouri, Marching locally

Read more responses from our survey and share your own story.

In Chicago, protesters tell us what they wish Americans knew about gun violence in their hometown.

“Gun violence is something that plagues the inner-city of Chicago every day. It is not something that is just isolated to school shootings. I would hope that more people would see how it is affecting the black and brown children of Chicago.” — Danielle Bryant, 27, lead instructor for After School Matters-Marillac.

Pictured below are students Bryant brought to the march: Robert Smith, 16; DJ LoveJoy, 16; Precious Atwood, 14; Rayvaughn Jackson, 15; Dionah Hudson, 15; and Cora Terry, 16.

Chicago students at the March for Our Lives 2018
[Jovona Taylor]

 

“I think more Americans should know that gun violence doesn’t just affect the student or victim but everyone around them.” — Carly Lovener, 12, Roscoe Village, Chicago
“I think more Americans should know that gun violence doesn’t just affect the student or victim but everyone around them.” — Carly Lovener, 12, Roscoe Village, Chicago [JoVona Taylor]
“I want to educate the people about what guns really do to people.” — Cortez Savage, 16, pictured with Nathan Lewis, 16, on the left. [JoVona Taylor]

Out-of-town demonstrators on vacation in Chicago came out to support the cause:

“I brought my children to the March for Our Lives because the children have to learn how to participate in activism early on. Activism isn’t learned overnight it’s learned over time and nurtured over time. They are our future and they have to take care of themselves and their future.” — Hiam Abbas, 40, from New York City, pictured with Toby Tiktinsky, 40; Khalil Abbas, 7; and Naseer Abbas, 3.

— JoVona Taylor

Recalling earlier mass shooting responses, but this “feels different.”

Before Parkland, before Las Vegas, before Pulse, even before Newtown, there was the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 that left 32 people dead.

Bill Erwin, 62, is from Vienna, Virginia, and has two children now at Virginia Tech.

“My son used to play soccer with a kid whose sister died in the Virginia Tech shooting,” Erwin recalled to The Trace. “It kind of hit close to home.”

“When that happened, I was at work and the reports started coming in: ‘there’s been a shooting.’ And they said initially maybe several injuries and then they started saying three or four dead and then it just kept climbing and climbing. It was just an awful day,” Erwin said.

He added: “You know, we thought with such a huge event, that would really mobilize the nation and things would change for the better, but unfortunately the NRA has a stranglehold on any changes. So, not enough. Nothing has changed.”

But the mobilization from the teens in Parkland being witnessed in Washington and across the nation “feels different,” he said.

“I think there’s going to be a change. It’s going to be not as fast as we’d like, but I think the momentum is changing,” Erwin told The Trace. “It’s like, one time we never thought gay rights would be where it is with same-sex marriage and other things, and that pendulum swung. And so you just feel the pendulum starting to swing back to the right direction here.”

— Matt Laslo

What else happened in D.C.?

“It’s the first time my generation has created a movement of this magnitude and importance,” Nick Song, a student in New Hampshire who was traveling to D.C. for the march, told us. “I hope I’m able to look back on it some years down the line as the beginning for when change towards gun violence occurred.”

Across the city, hundreds of local families offered up their homes for visiting marchers.

Just days after a shooting on their campus, students from Great Mills High School in Maryland joined the March for Our Lives protests in D.C. They were honoring their classmate Jaelynn Willey, 16, who died on Thursday night after being shot by another student on Tuesday.

The energy continued to grow in Washington on Saturday, as speakers took on the National Rifle Association and its stranglehold on the nation’s gun laws and threatened to vote out the lawmakers who do the group’s bidding.

Among the student speakers at the D.C. rally were Zaire Kelly, a D.C. teen whose brother was shot and killed in a robbery; Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year old granddaughter; and survivors of the school shooting in Parkland. Emma González, a Parkland student and one of the public faces of the #NeverAgain movement, stood in silence for 6 minutes and 20 seconds of her speech, the exact length of time it took for the gunman to kill 17 of her classmates and teachers on February 14.

Many of those gathered reported that the March 24 demonstrations wouldn’t be the end of their actions, but they say standing in close quarters with so many like-minded people is truly inspiring.

“To be able to be with all these people who believe in one thing, and really push for it, is amazing,” 16-year-old Cooper Huot told The Trace. He trekked down to D.C. on a charter bus from New Hampshire.

“There were no seats empty in it,” Huot said, predicting that the protests would keep gun safety on politicians’ radars. “I hope. There’s so many people here, there has to be something coming.”

On Friday, this group of marchers traveled to D.C. from Chicago.

Gunshot survivors march in New Orleans.

Roy Brumfield stands at a march in New Orleans
Roy Brumfield

“Everybody who’s a victim or knows somebody who’s a victim has not just a reason but a duty to come,” said Roy Brumfield, 46, a gunshot survivor who was marching in New Orleans.

Brumfield, who survived two shootings 20 years apart, told us last year that he walks with a limp because nobody told him physical therapy was an option.

Mark Gonzalez, 64, from the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, was shot in the back about 30 years ago as he was getting out of his car.

He said he’s fortunate because the bullet only grazed his kidney and didn’t do any permanent damage.

“I’ve always hated guns,” said Gonzalez, who recently sponsored an art show on firearms called “The Ambiguity of Guns.”

— Natalie Yahr

On Twitter, people shared protest signs from marches across the country.

(Read our interview with Excel Academy principal, Tammatha Woodhouse.)

Signs and solidarity, from the scene in New York.

a crowd marches in new york city
(Orlando Mendiola for The Trace)

In New York City, an estimated 150,000 people participated. Crowds gathered outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan to protest gun violence and hear speeches from activists, survivors, and celebrities.

Black Lives Matter protesters lie on the ground in Central Park
Protesters stage a “die-in” in response to police brutality. (Orlando Mendiola for The Trace)
Sign reads
“I find it interesting that all of the sudden we can find money to arm teachers and we don’t have any money for teacher raises, school supplies and extra teachers in the classrooms. But we can find the money to give teachers guns. I just find that reprehensible.” — Rose Barzdukas, whose husband is a principal at a private school in Brooklyn, pictured with her daughter on the left. (Orlando Mendiola for The Trace)

The political response

The White House issued the following official statement in response to the nationwide marches:

“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.

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.

Additionally, on Friday, the Department of Justice issued the rule to ban bump stocks following through on the President’s commitment to ban devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted in support of the marchers.

While President Donald Trump was in Florida and many lawmakers left Washington for a two-week recess, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, was one of a handful of lawmakers in D.C. for the rally.

“New Yorkers want change,” Gillibrand told The Trace. “They want common sense gun reform that makes a difference, that keeps our communities safe. All of these children’s lives are at risk, and we have to do what’s right as parents, as adults, as legislators to make sure they are protected. And that means common sense gun reform.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, released the following statement:

Counter-protests took place nationally.

A “March For Our Guns” rally happened in Helena, Montana. One attendee, Joey Chester, 18, told NPR:  “I love our Second Amendment rights. I don’t want to see those restricted for law-abiding citizens.”

A number of other counter-protests took place in cities across the country, including Boston and Los Angeles. In Texas, the gun rights group Open Carry Texas organized five March for Our Liberty demonstrations across the state.

Paul N., a gun owner from Houston, responded to our reader survey on the march by writing, “I am against gun violence as any sane individual would be. However, taking away my rights to own guns or arbitrarily banning the current popular firearm with the knee-jerk passing of unconstitutional laws is not something I will support.”

Carrying a sign that read “Concealed carry saves lives,” T.J. Collins, a gun-owning senior at Georgetown University, defied the beliefs of many in the crowd in D.C. on Saturday.

“I’m afraid of a lot of new laws that do nothing to strengthen our schools, that do nothing to reduce gun violence,” Collins told The Trace. “What they will actually do is make me less safe, make students and schools less safe.”

“We absolutely must improve school safety,” Collins said. “We can disagree exactly how to do it, but I think there’s a common consensus we must improve school safety. More people support metal detectors and armed resource officers than not, so I think that’s a good starting point.”

One big, hidden way that teen gun violence activists could change politics as usual.

Kristin Goss is a Duke University public policy professor who has been studying the gun debate since Columbine. Speaking on Thursday to The Trace’s editorial director, James Burnett, she raised the prospect that the “lockdown generation” could sustain momentum for change, not just through pressuring lawmakers and mobilizing voters, but through their effects on their own households.

“To me, one of the interesting questions coming out of this high school student, Parkland mobilization, and all of the allied student walk-outs and March For Our Lives and the local marches on Saturday is, ‘To what extent will these young people, who are energized around this issue, have an influence on their parents?’

Normally, political scientists and social scientists think about political socialization as happening from the parent to the child: The parents are teaching their students about politics and are modeling political behaviors. The socialization runs that way. But there is some evidence, actually, that sons and daughters can influence their parents. It’s not a well-developed literature, but there’s evidence going back to the ’70s in a more radical age, that younger people were influencing, in this case, mothers’ political attitudes. Some work has been done on civic education programs for young people, and those suggest that students who go through those programs can actually bring political discussions back into the household and encourage parents to pay more attention to issues, to have stronger feelings about politics, to have more political discussions.

To me, one of the great questions is going to be, ‘What’s happening around the dining room table with young people feeling really engaged around this issue?’ And, ‘Are they going to be talking to their parents? Are they going to be, even if not changing their parents’ minds, are they going to be encouraging their parents to be more engaged on this issue, to vote on this issue, to take other political actions around the issue?’ We don’t know that, but to me, that is probably one of the most interesting questions that’s coming out of the movement.”

This weekend, young people marched for gun reform. Eighteen years ago, it was moms.

On Mother’s Day in 2000, the Million Mom March drew an estimated 750,000 people to the nation’s capital, and thousands of others to marches in 77 other cities across the country. Like the Parkland students, its organizer was inspired by a shooting that targeted children. Donna Dees-Thomases, 59, was a publicist for “Late Show with David Letterman” when, in August 1999, four months after the Columbine school shooting, a white supremacist opened fire with an Uzi submachine gun at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, wounding three children and two adults.

“My kids at the time were four and five years old, and they were going to a JCC day camp,” Dees-Thomases told The Trace. Disturbed by the ease at which the gunman was able to access firearms, she quickly became an expert on gun safety. “I realized that we didn’t really have that many laws on the books, and what was there was full of loopholes,” she said. “Seven days after the shooting, I applied for a march permit.”

This was 1999. There was no social media. No text messaging. People barely used email. Very few had cell phones. The Parkland teens were able to stage a nationwide series of walkouts a mere 30 days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High with the help of Twitter and YouTube.

“Like these kids, we just had strong messaging,” Dees-Thomases said. “They have a five-point legislative agenda — we had a five-point legislative agenda.” The Moms’ asks included, according to Dees-Thomases: Handgun licensing and registration, gun-childproofing requirements, and mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases.

Riding a nine-month wave of publicity between the announcement of the march and the event itself, Dees-Thomases and her fellow moms pressured legislators to embrace gun reforms, while educating potential voters on each lawmaker’s position on guns. The march prompted a Congressional hearing on gun safety. And in the six months between the demonstration and the election, “Stalled gun safety legislation started to sail through statehouse. Bad bills suddenly got vetoed, and in 2000, we threw out a bunch of NRA stalwarts,” she said.

After a far smaller one-year anniversary march in 2001, Dees-Thomases merged her organization with the Brady Campaign and built a network of activists that she says fueled the gun violence prevention movement for the next several years.

Ultimately, according to Dees-Thomases, the legacy of the Million Mom March is not the record-breaking attendance at the National Mall, but its voter education fund, which benefited from an anonymous $1 million donation. “That’s how we flipped all those states,” she said.

The Parkland survivors, too, have recognized the power of electoral change, telling NRA-affiliated lawmakers, “We will vote you out.” And this, Dees-Thomases said, will be the key to the #NeverAgain movement’s longevity.

“This march has the ability to really change the direction of Congress,” said Dees-Thomases, who is marching in New Orleans, where she is now based. “People ultimately vote for the candidate who’s going to protect their kids, and they will vote this issue if they know who to vote for. With very limited resources, we were able to do that. And these kids are obviously light years ahead of us. Once they realize their power, they can change the makeup of Congress. We came pretty close.”

— Jennifer Mascia

In memoriam: Lives lost since Parkland

Clockwise from top left: Lydiah Okongo, Gary Scales, William Teasley III, Robert Crall, Chantelle Johnson, Aiden Kramer.

For each day this month, we’ve been sharing the story of someone whose life was lost to gun violence. On March 5, Lydiah Okongo, 40, a registered nurse and mother of three, was found shot to death at her home in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her husband was found with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in another room. On March 11, Gary Scales, 76, a city councilman in Sheffield, Alabama, died by suicide at his home. He’d been undergoing treatment for cancer. On March 14, William Teasley III, 22, a rapper in Wilmington, Delaware, was shot on his front steps. His sister found him bleeding out. The next day, Robert Crall, 54, was shot during a robbery while working as a taxi driver in Tacoma, Washington. A bystander held his hand as he died. On March 19, Chantelle Johnson, 36, was found dead of a gunshot wound in a car in New Orleans, Louisiana. She leaves behind four kids. On March 21, Aiden Kramer, 9, was found shot to death along with his mother inside their apartment in Burlington, Kentucky. A co-worker of his mom’s described him as “very smart. Very outgoing for his age.”

— Jennifer Mascia

Get the facts on gun violence

When working toward gun violence prevention in the United States, it helps to understand the big picture.

  • Three of the deadliest mass shootings have taken place in the past six months. But mass shootings, which occur almost daily in the United States. still represent only 1 percent of gun deaths.
  • Suicides represent two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States. Guns make it much easier for people to take their own lives, and in states where more people own guns, suicide rates are higher.
  • Domestic violence also accounts for a large number of gun fatalities: an American woman is fatally shot by her partner approximately every 16 hours. Still, 37 states have failed to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which allows abusive dating partners to possess guns as long as they have not lived with their victims.
  • Domestic shootings disproportionately affect black women, who are murdered by their partners at twice the rate of white women.

But there are solutions. Stronger background checks, permit-to-purchase laws, child-access laws, bans on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, and certain policing tactics have proven effective in addressing some of these issues.

Want to learn more? We’ve pulled together a guide to the data and research that’s available on gun violence in the United States and ways to reduce it.