About 200 supporters of tighter gun control rallied at the State House on Saturday morning, calling for legislation that would ban assault weapons and require background checks on all gun buyers.
The rally, organized by the Boston chapter of national grass-roots group One Million Moms for Gun Control, coincided with similar events across the country. A march at the Capitol Building in Washington drew thousands of participants, according to the Associated Press.
“I feel like the tide is turning,” said Emma Miles, a 40-year-old Salem resident who attended the rally. “We can’t say, ‘oh, these things happen.’ We have to try. Every little step counts.”
Waving the heart-shaped signs that have become the group’s signature, rally participants repeatedly chanted “today is the day” as they listened to a succession of speakers that included politicians and activists such as antigun violence advocate John Rosenthal. His group, Stop Handgun Violence, is responsible for the prominent antigun billboard over the Mass. Pike in Boston.
Many members of the crowd said they were participating in activism for the first time, spurred by the shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The rally took place on the same spot where, a week earlier, about 700 gun rights advocates had gathered to protest gun control legislation proposed by Governor Deval Patrick. Saturday’s rally drew about 200 people. Organizers attributed the smaller turnout in part to bitterly cold temperatures, but also to the group’s relative newness: One Million Moms for Gun Control was founded in December just one day after the Newtown massacre.
US Representative Edward J. Markey and state Representative David Linsky, Democrat of Natick, urged the crowd to help counter a “flood” of letters from gun rights advocates to legislators.
“I know the people here today are representative of the people of Massachusetts,” said Linsky, who has filed gun control legislation in the state Legislature. “The overwhelming majority want and demand more effective gun laws.”
Markey, Democrat of Malden, slammed the National Rifle Association, calling it a front for gun manufacturers that doesn’t represent the views of many gun owners.
“America won’t go along with the NRA’s radical gun agenda,” he told the rally. “We need an army of activists to bring sanity back to this country. . . . This is the beginning of a revolution.”
Ilyse Levine-Kanji, a 46-year-old Westborough mother of two, drew cheers for an emotional speech that recalled her grandfather and her professional mentor, a lawyer; both were shot dead in separate incidents decades ago outside of Massachusetts.
“I was excited by the energy at the rally and by how many people showed up,” she said. “It’s hard for people to necessarily feel a personal connection to gun violence.”
One Million Moms for Gun Control assert that a majority of Americans want action on gun control, but are being drowned out by a vocal minority of gun rights advocates and the NRA. The group hopes to counter the NRA’s influence by stockpiling political capital behind state and national politicians who support gun control measures.
“We need to let our legislators know that . . . we will come out and vote for people who take the courageous route of voting for reasonable gun safety measures,” Levine-Kanji said. “Voting for gun safety measures is the moral thing to do, but I think it will also be the right thing to do in terms of a congressperson keeping his or her seat.”
The Newtown school shooting loomed large over the rally: Organizers cited the tragedy as a source of momentum for the movement and for their own activism.
“A child in Newtown that died in the shooting was the exact same age and has the exact same name as my son,” said Molly Mallow, a co-leader of the Boston chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control. “I couldn’t accept that. I could not do nothing anymore.”
Markey said the fallout from Newtown has also reverberated in the political arena.
“The tragedy in Newtown has changed everything in Washington, and the polling across the country shows that,” he said in an interview after the rally.
Gun rights advocates who rallied last week said the laws proposed by Patrick and Linsky were reactionary and would do little to prevent mass shootings.
But Markey said he expects both state and federal gun control legislation to advance, despite resistance.
“I think we’re going to be able to pass legislation this year, even though the NRA is going to mount the strongest opposition of its entire existence,” he said. “You can see here today that something is happening, something has changed, and I think that it’s only going to grow as the months go by.”