A vast army of angry Americans has descended on Washington DC to demand that the national fixation with easily available lethal weaponry be brought to an end once and for all.
Their sentiments were echoed at smaller protests across the country amid a move of national disgust following the latest spate of slaughters in schools, factories and even hospitals.
In the nation’s capital, organisers with March for Our Lives (MFOL) estimated 40,000 people assembled at the National Mall near the Washington Monument under occasional light rain on Saturday.
The gun safety group was founded by student survivors of the 2018 massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school.
Protester Courtney Haggerty, 41, said the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a gunman killed 26 people, mostly children, came one day after her daughter’s first birthday.
“It left me raw,” she said. “I can’t believe she’s going to be 11, and we’re still doing this.”
A gunman in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers on May 24, 10 days after another gunman murdered 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store in a racist attack.
The shootings have added new urgency to the country’s ongoing debate over gun violence, though the prospects for federal legislation remain uncertain given staunch Republican opposition to any limits on firearms.
In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators have vowed to hammer out a deal, though they have yet to reach an agreement.
Their effort is focused on relatively modest changes, such as incentivising states to pass “red flag” laws that allow authorities to keep guns from individuals deemed dangerous.
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat who earlier this month urged Congress to ban assault weapons, expand background checks and implement other measures, said he supported Saturday’s protests.
‘We are being murdered’
“We are being murdered,” said X Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor and co-founder of MFOL, in an emotional speech alongside survivors of other mass shootings. “You, Congress, have done nothing to prevent it.”
Among other policies, MFOL has called for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks for those trying to purchase guns and a national licensing system, which would register gun owners.
Biden told reporters in Los Angeles he had spoken several times with Senator Chris Murphy, who is leading the Senate talks, and that negotiators remained “mildly optimistic”.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a sweeping set of gun safety measures, but the legislation has no chance of advancing in the Senate, where Republicans view gun limits as infringing upon the US Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.