(The Hill) — Thousands of protesters gathered on the National Mall Saturday to demonstrate against gun violence in a March for Our Lives rally, vowing to continue to push for gun reform as long as necessary to achieve progress.
The rally was one of more than 450 protests taking place around the country and the world in the aftermath of multiple high-profile mass shootings over the past month. Speakers at the Washington, D.C., rally called on political leaders to act on gun legislation to save lives and ensure these incidents become much less frequent.
Mass shootings are defined as incidents in which at least four people are shot. There have been about 1.5 mass shootings per day and more than 10 mass shootings weekly so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and co-founder of March for Our Lives, said he chose to speak at the rally because he did not want anyone else to live the “nightmare” of being a survivor of gun violence or a family member of a victim.
“All Americans have a right to not be shot, a right to safety,” Hogg said. “Nowhere in the Constitution is unrestricted access to weapons of war a guaranteed right.”
Both gunmen in the shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, used AR-15-style rifles in carrying out their attacks. Activists have called for banning these weapons and other so-called assault weapons.
Hogg said seeing “tiny coffins” for the students killed in Uvalde should lead to demands for change, not “endless debate.”
A bipartisan group of senators is working to reach a deal on some form of gun legislation, with Democrats saying they are “very close” to reaching an agreement.
The discussions are focused on modest reforms such as increasing funding for mental health and incentivizing states to pass red flag laws, which allow those around an individual to petition for their guns to be temporarily taken away if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Senate negotiators have said more expansive proposals to institute universal background checks and ban assault weapons are not part of the discussions.
Hogg said since March for Our Lives’s first rally in 2018 following the Parkland shooting, more than 150 pieces of gun safety legislation have passed in various states throughout the country. He said this makes him believe “this time is different.”
A couple political leaders also spoke at the rally, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who opened her remarks by saying, “Enough is enough.”
Bowser said Americans are frustrated because they have previously seen little change on gun reform despite repeated mass shootings.
“We’re not asking for a lot,” she said. “We’re asking to drop off our children at school without having to worry that someone will bring an AR-15 into the classroom.”
She said those who stand with the values of this movement need to talk to their congresspeople to demand they support gun legislation or “get out of our way.”
She added that passing universal background checks and red flag laws are common sense, but “common sense ain’t that common in the Senate.”
The House passed multiple bills to expand background checks last year, but they stalled in the Senate. Senate Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of passing stricter gun laws, but in the evenly divided Senate they would need at least 10 additional votes to overcome a Republican-led filibuster to approve such legislation.
Democratic negotiators in the bipartisan group are hoping a deal they reach will receive enough votes to end a possible filibuster on the bill. If all GOP lawmakers in the group vote in favor of a potential agreement in addition to all 50 Democratic senators, four additional Republicans will need to vote for it to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold.
Bowser encouraged the rally participants to keep fighting for progress and said she knows the solution to the issue lies with young people.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) spoke at the demonstration as well, sharing her personal experience being a survivor of gun violence. She said she was in an abusive relationship and knew her partner had guns but did not think he would use them against her. As she ran away from him one day, she said he fired at her. She said the “horror” of that moment stays with her, just as it does with others who have experienced gun violence.
She said a red flag law or universal background checks could have helped save her and others from a “near-lethal” experience with guns.
“I want those members of Congress who are complicit in every mass shooting that happens because of their own perpetuation of policy violence, I want them to know those of us who are gun violence survivors, who will not let up until change happens, we are everywhere,” Bush said.
A range of other survivors of gun violence also detailed their experiences at the rally.
RuQuan Brown, a survivor of gun violence in D.C. and a March for Our Lives organizer, said he was “sad” to be present at the rally but needed to be there because of “intentional ignorance” from elected officials on gun violence.
He said those in attendance are demanding politicians’ love, which he said is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.
“We must live in a nation where love is the norm,” he said. “We must live in a nation where love takes us by storm. We must live in a nation where love keeps us warm because that is what we deserve.”