Thousands march in action against gun violence in the United States

WASHINGTON: Thousands of people took to the streets across the United States on Saturday to press for action against the devastating gun violence plaguing the country, where Republican politicians have repeatedly blocked efforts to enact tougher laws on firearms.

Protesters of all ages flocked to the National Mall in Washington, where a gun violence prevention group placed more than 45,000 white vases containing flowers – one for every person killed by a gun in the United States in 2020.

“Protect people, not guns,” read a sign held by a protester near the Washington Monument. “Fear has no place in schools,” read another.

Two horrific shootings last month – one at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 young children and two teachers, and another at a New York supermarket that left 10 black people dead – helped spark the call for demonstrations.

But the problem of gun violence – which has killed more than 19,300 people so far this year in the United States, according to Gun Violence Archive – goes far beyond the high-profile massacres, with more than half of those killed due to suicide.

“The will of the American people is being subverted by a minority,” said Cynthia Martins, a 63-year-old resident of the American capital, in reference to the Republican Party.

She carried a sign that used the party’s “GOP” nickname to spell “Guns Over People.”

“There’s a reason we’re still in this situation and there are still mass shootings,” Martins said, adding, “Wringing your hands won’t do anything – you have to make your voice heard.”

Garnell Whitfield, whose 86-year-old mother was killed in the racist supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, spoke from a stage at the Washington protest.

“We are here to demand justice,” Whitfield said. “We are here to support those who are bold enough to demand sensible gun legislation.”

The protests were organized by March for Our Lives, which was founded by survivors of a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, who staged a rally that drew hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital in March 2018.

Protesters marched through Parkland on Saturday, carrying signs with messages such as “Am I next?” and “Books Not Bulletproof Backpacks”.

Widespread outrage, little change

Protesters also traveled to New York, with protests planned in hundreds of locations across the country.

The ease of access to guns and the mental health issues that can lead to their use in attacks have both been in the spotlight following the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

The massacre was carried out by a gunman who bought two assault rifles shortly after turning 18.

Gun control advocates are calling for tighter restrictions or an outright ban on these guns, one of which was also used in Buffalo. But opponents of tougher regulations have sought to make mass shootings primarily a mental health issue, not a weapons issue.

The frequent mass shootings have sparked widespread outrage in the United States, where a majority of people support tougher gun laws, but opposition from many Republican lawmakers has long stood in the way of major changes.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives this week passed a wide range of proposals, including raising the purchase age for most semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, but the party has not 60 votes required to advance him to the Senate.

A cross-party group of senators has also been working on a narrow set of controls that could become the first serious attempt at gun regulatory reform in decades.

The package would increase funding for mental health services and school safety, narrowly expand background checks and encourage states to institute “red flag laws” that allow authorities to confiscate weapons from individuals deemed a threat.

But it doesn’t include an assault weapons ban or universal background checks, meaning it won’t meet the expectations of President Joe Biden, progressive Democrats and anti-gun violence activists.

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