March For Our Lives: Huge gun-control rallies sweep US

Americans gather in Washington DC for the March for Our Lives gun control rally

Mass student-led protests calling for tighter gun control are under way across the United States.

The protests – under the banner March For Our Lives – have grown out of a movement calling for change after 17 people were killed by a gunman at a high school in Florida last month.

Half a million people are expected to descend on the biggest march in Washington DC.

More than 800 sister protests are planned nationwide and abroad.

Solidarity marches have taken place in London, Edinburgh, Geneva, Sydney and Tokyo.

Participants want to seize on public outrage in the wake of the 14 February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to convince US politicians to finally take decisive action, including by banning the sale of assault weapons.

However, the issue divides Americans. The right to bear arms is protected under the 2nd amendment of the US constitution and the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby remains highly influential.

President Donald Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, the White House released a statement praising the “many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today”.

It also cited steps it is taking to tackle gun violence, including banning bump stocks, plus enacting the STOP School Violence Act, which seeks to improve school security and increase training for students, staff and local law enforcement.

There are also plans to improve criminal background records so gun buyers are properly vetted before making a purchase.

March for Our Lives
Organisers say up to half a million people could rally in Washington DC.

 

Singers Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind hit musical Hamilton, have performed on a stage erected in front of the US Capitol building.

The music has been interspersed with impassioned youth leaders calling for change, including 17-year-old Edna Chavez, whose brother was shot and killed in a south Los Angeles neighbourhood where, she said, it was normal to see flowers and tributes on the streets.

“We will continue to fight for our dead friends,” said speaker Delaney Tarr, a Parkland student.

Some speeches came from children who are just 11 years old, including Naomi Wadler, from Virginia, who spoke “to represent African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper”.

The BBC’s Jon Sopel in Washington says the protesters there have strung out lines of photographs of students and teachers killed in school shootings.

A demonstration has also been held in Parkland, with relatives of the victims speaking to crowds.

At a rally in Houston, Texas, Mayor Sylvester Turner called the events a defining moment in US history and announced a commission to tackle gun violence on a local level.

Families of the victims of the 1996 school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, also joined a solidarity demonstration outside the US consulate in Edinburgh.

In London, several hundred people gathered outside the new US embassy in Vauxhall, carrying placards addressed to US politicians and the NRA, saying “protect kids not guns” and “books not bullets”. The crowd was a mix of US immigrants and allies.

Some 69% of Americans think gun laws should be tightened, according to a new poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, up from 61% in October 2016.

Chart showing Americans unhappy with US gun laws want stricter rules

‘My lost soulmate’

By Marianna Brady, BBC News, Washington

The crowds started to gather in the early hours of the morning outside the US Capitol. Chants for “no more NRA” and “no more guns” erupt every few minutes at random.

“He was my soulmate,” said Victoria Gonzalez, looking down at a sign of her boyfriend Joaquin Oliver.

Valentine’s Day – 14 February – started off as a great day for Victoria. “Joaquin and I exchanged gifts in the morning and he walked me to class. I was so happy.”

Later that day, she would learn that Joaquin was one of 17 people shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas school.

“It wasn’t real. It’s taken a while for it to sink in. I’m here today so no one ever has to face this again,” she said, standing in a crowd of several thousand ahead of the march.

“It gives me a lot of hope seeing how many people are out here supporting us. It feels like the whole entire world is on our side,” Victoria said.

What’s happened since Parkland?

  • After pressure from students, Florida passed a gun control law that raises the legal age for buying rifles in the state but also allows the arming of school staff. The NRA sued the state, saying the law was unconstitutional
  • In February, President Trump urged lawmakers to work on bipartisan legislation, accusing them of being “petrified” of the NRA. He supported raising the minimum age for gun purchases but later appeared to back away from that proposal. The White House says he wants to focus on measures that can get through Congress, like improved background checks. He has also backed arming some teachers
  • Several major companies cut ties with the NRA amid a #BoycottNRA campaign, while chains like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced new restrictions on gun sales
  • Earlier this month, students and school staff commemorated the Florida school shooting with a mass walkout

Source: bbc.co.uk

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