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Students rally against gun violence

Many of the teens at an antigun rally Wednesday afternoon at Copley Square had practiced drills at their respective schools to prepare for armed intruders. One speaker at the event had lived through an infamous attack.

“Five years ago at Virginia Tech, sitting in my French class, I went through hell, I barely survived,” said Colin Goddard, 27, who was shot four times during the deadliest school shooting in US history, an attack that killed 33 people.

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The second deadliest school shooting — less than two weeks ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — has once again pushed the gun debate to the national forefront. The rally, organized by the United Synagogue Youth, which is holding its annual national convention in Boston, had been part of the convention program for months, organizers said.

“In light of what happened in Newtown and upstate New York, this rally really took on new meaning,’’ said Matthew Halpern, spokesman for the organization. He was referring to a shooting in Webster, N.Y., in which two firefighters responding to a house fire were fatally shot by an occupant, according to authorities.

As many as 1,000 people, mostly high school students from across the United States and Canada, attended the rally, many holding posterboards with antigun messages. The rally started at noon and ended at about 1:30 p.m.,with bag lunches for the students.

Goddard, who for the past 2½ years has been an advocate for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, said the Newtown shooting “was a combination of untreated mental illness and easy accessibility to dangerous weapons.”

“Unfortunately, this happens everyday,” he said. “I’ve spent some time on Capitol Hill lobbying, spent some time across the country organizing, and frankly I realize there are not enough politicians in D.C. who realize that the American people want change.”

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State Representative David P. Linsky, a Democrat from Natick, urged the students to call their elected officials. “You cannot be complacent, make a promise to me . . . because you outnumber the members of the NRA,” he said.

“There are too many guns on the streets, too many guns in homes. Does anybody really need the type of weapon that can wipe out a first-grade class in a matter of two minutes, do we really need that?” he asked the crowd, which responded with a collective shout of “no.”

“Well, you have to tell Congress about that,” he said.

The National Rifle Association did not return a call seeking comment.

Zach Gross, a 16-year-old junior at Peabody High School, said he believes that teens like himself can have an impact on gun legislation.

“It was very important that we had this rally, given the fact that we are teenagers and we are the future, and we could change the laws,” he said.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.

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