More than a thousand demonstrators gathered Saturday afternoon on Boston’s waterfront to call for stronger gun control laws, joining a national protest movement that promised to bring many more into the streets of major cities and small towns across the country.
The national mobilization comes in the wake of a spate of mass shootings that has devastated the nation, including an attack at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 dead, including 19 young students.
Saturday’s March for Our Lives protests marked the second time demonstrators have poured into the streets and onto the steps of the nation’s Capitol building in the name of the movement. The first was four years ago in 2018 after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Students who survived that shooting organized the first March for Our Lives.
The nation’s gun laws had to change to prevent more tragedies like the one in Parkland, they said in 2018. In the years since, little legislative progress has been made, and school shootings have continued to terrorize students.
“This isn’t the world we should be living in and growing up in,” Ashley Clark, a 19-year-old political science student at Northeastern University who helped organize the Boston rally, said in an interview.
At Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, where Saturday’s Boston demonstration was held, crowds had gathered by 3:30 p.m., toting signs that read “no more guns” and chanting “no more silence, end gun violence!”
Throughout the afternoon, young attendees lifted colorful signs urging lawmakers to value the lives of children ahead of the powerful guns that have killed hundreds in classrooms in recent years.
A young girl sat on her father’s shoulders clutching a sign on which she had written “No guns,” in crayon. “When I grow up, I want to be: Still alive,” another sign read. A high-schooler raised a poster that read, “I should be writing my college essay, not my will.”
Massachusetts boasts some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, and in the debate on gun control, it has often been pointed to as the blueprint from which other states should learn. But speakers at Saturday’s rally — a collection of high school students, activists, and educators — said change is needed on the national level.
Congress, they said, must urgently pass measures raising the legal age to own a weapon to 21, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and enacting comprehensive “red flag” laws that could prevent weapons from getting into the wrong hands. If they do not act, the speakers said, mass shootings will only continue.
“Politicians could anticipate the price of their inaction” before the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, said Justin Meszler, a recent Sharon High School graduate, who recalled attending the first March for Our Lives as an eighth-grader. “And still they chose to do nothing. … Every day that our elected officials offer thoughts and prayers instead of meaningful, tangible actions is blood on their hands.”
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, after hearing heart-wrenching testimony from survivors of the Uvalde attack and their families, passed several gun control bills on Wednesday that would enact some of the reforms demonstrators have called for. But those bills are unlikely to pass in the Senate given widespread Republican opposition. Hopes for a compromise hinge on a small bipartisan group of senators.
David Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor who cofounded March for Our Lives and is now a student at Harvard University, told the Globe in May that he is optimistic changes to gun policy are a real possibility.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, rejected Republican politicians’ calls to arm teachers, increase the presence of police in schools, and double down on active shooter drills.
“Such measures merely create an illusion of safety ... they are knee-jerk reactions in place of real solutions.”
Najimy advocated for the public to vote out politicians whose “moral compass has been robbed” by the gun lobby.
“There is no unalienable right that can justify the murder of people simply living their lives — going to school, going to the market, going to a house of worship, going to a medical appointment, going out with family and friends,” she said.
While legislators debate a compromise, what was clear at Saturday’s rally is that the recent shootings have left some students terrified to go to school and some parents terrified to send them. The Uvalde shooting, in particular, has brought painful memories of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 crashing back.
Michael Seymour, 42, held his 9-year-old daughter’s hand and a protest sign as he crossed the street ahead of the demonstration in Boston.
Taylorlane Seymour is an “experienced activist,” Seymour said of his daughter. The two, who live in Boston, have attended rallies together since the first March for Our Lives protest in 2018.
“[The Uvalde shooting] stings a lot more than others,” Seymour said. “I can’t wrap my head around what those parents went through. It’s a helpless feeling.”
He said he takes his daughter to rallies to teach her that gun violence “is not normal.”
“I don’t want more guns,” Taylorlane said.
Ji-Yann Chin and Madeline Stamp, both juniors at Franklin High School, came in for the rally wielding a sign that read “Protect Kids Not Guns.” They said they have both been doing active shooter drills every year since kindergarten.
“As a high school student, I’m afraid to go to school every day because I’m afraid of a mass shooting,” said Chin, 17. “And I don’t think it’s fair to feel that way, especially for younger children. It’s not fair.”
Communities across the state held marches and rallies of their own on Saturday. And in Washington, D.C., thousands gathered on the National Mall to demand action.
Echoing similar demonstrations in 2018, students have walked out of class in protest at schools across the state in the weeks since the Uvalde shooting.
Seated in the grass on Saturday was Shannon Whigham, 35, bouncing her 10-month-old baby, Zakeen.
“It’s different when you have your own kids,” she said.
Her husband, Steffon Whigham, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s unbearable to see shooting after shooting after shooting,” Whigham, 36, said. “[After Uvalde] I looked at my wife and was like, ‘What about homeschool?’”
Shannon Larson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
The young people organizing with @AMarch4OurLives are working so very hard to get gun safety legislation passed. I am with them, I believe in them, and I will follow their great leadership. Thank you for meeting with me today. pic.twitter.com/1CyDAdWO9n— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) June 9, 2022
If every state had the same gun laws in Massachusetts we could cut gun deaths in half. Within five years.— David Hogg ☮️ (@davidhogg111) June 5, 2022
June 11 we will be marching in nearly every state demand action. Those marching include both political parties and all ages. We all agree something needs to be done to stop our kids from dying. Let’s focus on what we agree on and make congress act.— David Hogg ☮️ (@davidhogg111) May 26, 2022
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