WASHINGTON — Thousands of people, many holding signs with names of gun-violence victims and messages such as “Ban Assault Weapons Now,” joined a rally for gun control Saturday, marching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
Leading the crowd were marchers with “We Are Sandy Hook” signs, paying tribute to victims of the December school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials marched alongside them. The crowd stretched for at least two blocks along Constitution Avenue.
Participants held signs reading “Gun Control Now,” “Stop NRA” and “What Would Jesus Pack?” among other messages. Other signs had just the names of victims of gun violence.
About 100 residents from Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members, traveled to Washington together, organizers said.
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“We’re living in the middle of a crisis,” said Dave Ackert, a father of two from Newtown who helped organize the group. “Many, many people want to take action. Newtown wants to be remembered as a tipping point for positive change to reduce gun violence.”
Advocates said they hope the March on Washington for Gun Control will be the first of several such events to push for tougher laws.
Once the crowd arrived at the monument, speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition and for universal background checks on gun sales.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it’s not about taking away Second Amendment gun rights, but about gun safety and saving lives. He said he and President Obama would do everything they could to enact gun-control policies.
“This is about trying to create a climate in which our children can grow up free of fear,” Duncan said. “This march is a starting point; it is not an ending point. … We must act, we must act, we must act.”
James Agenbroad, 78, of Garrett Park, Md., carried a handwritten sign on cardboard that read “Repeal the 2nd Amendment.” He called it the only way to stop mass killings because he thinks the Supreme Court will strike down any other restrictions on guns.
“You can repeal it,” he said. “We repealed Prohibition.”
The December killing spree in Newtown “has been the tipping point for so many people in this country,” said Molly Smith, one of the march organizers. “This is a movement, an honest-to-God movement.”
After the Connecticut shootings, Smith began organizing on Facebook. The group One Million Moms for Gun Control, the Washington National Cathedral and two other churches eventually signed on to co-sponsor the march. Organizers raised more than $50,000 online to pay for equipment and fees to stage the rally, Smith said.
Lawmakers from the District of Columbia and Maryland rallied the crowd, along with Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund and Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre.
Goddard said he was shot four times at Virginia Tech and is motivated to keep fighting for gun control because what happened to him keeps happening — and nothing’s been done to stop it.
“We are Americans,” he said, drawing big cheers. “We have overcome difficulties when we realize we are better than this.”
Smith said she supports a comprehensive look at mental health and violence in video games and films. But she said the killings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo., and Newtown all began with guns.
“The issue is guns. The Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns, but it’s not the right to own any gun,” she said. “These are assault weapons, made for killing people.”
This month, President Obama unveiled a package of measures to reshape gun laws. Last week, Democratic lawmakers, led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, reintroduced legislation that would ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Officials at the National Rifle Association, however, say more guns in the hands of the right people is the key to reducing school shootings.
Material from The Washington Post is included in this report.