Huge crowds of Americans took to the streets from coast to coast on Saturday to demand gun control at emotional protests fuelled by teenagers who survived a mass shooting last month at a Florida high school.
Bundled against the cold but fired up with passion, hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington for the biggest US rally for gun reform in a generation.
In London, Australia hundreds of people protested outside the US embassies.
‘Stand for us or beware the voters are coming,’ Cameron Kasky, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — where 14 students and three adults died last month — told the crowd packing the streets of the Washington.
‘We are going to make this a voting issue. We are going to take this to every election, to every state, and every city,’ said another Stoneman Douglas student leader, David Hogg.
‘We can and we will change the world!’
Large crowds turned out in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Seattle and other cities.
In New York, former Beatle Paul McCartney showed up at a march wearing a shirt reading ‘We Can End Gun Violence’ and spoke of bandmate John Lennon, who was shot dead in the city in December 1980.
Thousands gathered in a park in Parkland, Florida, to pay tribute to the 14 students and three adults killed by a troubled 19-year-old gunman on February 14 at Stoneman Douglas.
‘I March Because I Was Almost Silenced,’ read a sign carried by Samantha Mayor, 17, who was shot in the knee and wears a heavy brace on her leg as she recovers.
Samantha’s mother, Ellyn, held a sign reading ‘I’m Marching So No Other Parent Has to Hear ‘Mom, I’ve Been Shot.’’
Hundreds of thousands were attending the student-led ‘March For Our Lives’ in Washington within sight of the US Capitol — whose lawmakers the protesters hope to influence.
‘This is an historic event,’ said Elijah Schneider, 15, who came to the nation’s capital from Long Island, New York, with his mother, Giokazta.
‘I want to be here for this new thing that’s going to happen, this change that I hope to make,’ said the high school freshman, who came bearing a sign that read ‘Protect Kids, Not Guns.’
Stoneman Douglas students have been the driving force behind the march, badgering US lawmakers to enact a ban on assault rifles and to expand background checks to cover all gun purchases, even private sales.
March organisers included a link for people to register to vote on their website as they seek to transform the gun control movement into a potent political force.
‘Let Our Votes Be Our Best Weaponry,’ read one sign.
Singer Andra Day kicked off the rally in Washington with a rousing version of the song ‘Rise Up.’ Other performers include Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Common, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato.
Many protestors had posters critical of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful US gun lobby.
‘Who’s Afraid of the NRA? Republicans,’ said a sign carried by Jeff Turchin, a 68-year-old retired garment manufacturer who came to Washington from New York.
‘We shouldn’t have guns in our society. These kids are right,’ Turchin said. ‘They’re basically saying the NRA is paying off these Republicans,’ the party of president Donald Trump, which controls the Senate and House of Representatives.
Crowds of demonstrators poured out of the Washington subway and filled Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the White House with the Capitol, making it difficult to get close to the main stage.
The area was closed to traffic in order to hold the tide of protesters squeezing into streets flanked by giant video screens proclaiming their slogan, ‘March For Our Lives.’
Lauren Tilley, 17, told AFP she came from El Dorado County, California, with seven other teens and three adults to attend the march in Washington.
‘We are the people who are scared to go to school every day because we don’t know if we are next,’ Tilley said.
‘Our main message is we are not going to be quiet, we will keep fighting,’ she said. ‘We will be voting in 2020. Our generation wants change.’
A large peace sign decorated with flowers called for a ban on assault rifles, such as the type used in the Florida shooting.
Since the Parkland attack, the state of Florida and the US Congress have made only modest tweaks to gun laws and President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers has met with widespread resistance.
Although the Florida shooting triggered the movement, it has embraced the entire problem of gun violence in a nation that sees more than 30,000 gun-related deaths a year.
Most of those fatalities do not come from mass shootings but from neighbourhood homicides and suicides.
Organisers say more than 800 marches are being held across the country and around the world under the slogan #NeverAgain.
Trump was in Florida as the march took place in Washington but the White House issued a statement.
‘We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,’ it said. ‘Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the president’s.’
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