Protesters at A March For Our Lives rally gathers at the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol to advocate for gun control policies on June 11, 2022. (Credit: Danielle J. Brown)
A day after GOP lawmakers in the Legislature blocked a special session on expanded gun restrictions, Florida Democrats, other politicians, activists and citizens held rallies Saturday to protest continuing gun violence that has shocked the nation in recent weeks.
The protests were scheduled from Alaska to Maine to Washington D.C. and down to Florida and its myriad communities, including Tallahassee in the state capital. The events were organized by the youth-run gun-control group March For Our Lives, founded by survivors of the 2018 massacre at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
March For Our Lives activists David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Jaclyn Corin were among the Parkland survivors featured on stage at the demonstration in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
“Here’s the reality: If our government can’t do anything to stop 19 kids [at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas] from being killed and slaughtered in their own school and decapitated, it is time to change who is in the government,” Hogg told thousands of people assembled in the nation’s capital.
“As we gather here today, the next shooter is already plotting his attack, while the federal government pretends it can do nothing about it,” he said on stage and from a March For Our Lives live broadcast on YouTube as well as other networks.
Hogg also blasted U.S. senators for adjourning in a recess rather than completing negotiations on compromise legislation to expand background checks and impose so-called “red flag” laws that could curb the death toll.
Likewise, Parkland massacre survivor Cameron Kasky told the crowd in Washington to take heart from the outpouring of support for gun control demonstrated around the nation Saturday and to demand elected officials pass gun control laws.
“Since this movement began, people have asked me, do you think any change is going to come from this? Look around. We are the change. Everybody here is standing for the future of society,” Kasky said on the central stage.
Kasky recited the names of the 17 students and school employees murdered at his former high school, saving student Nicholas Dworet’s name for last.
“Today is Nicholas’ birthday,” Kasky said. “Nicholas, we are all here for you.”
The March For Our Lives demonstrations in Florida included events in Miami and Orlando, where a gunman massacred 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016, as well as Parkland, where 17 students and staff were murdered and scores wounded on Valentine’s Day 2018.
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The most recent massacres in May include the shooting deaths of 10 Black people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, and the Uvalde, Texas shootings, where 19 children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school.
In the state capital in Tallahassee Saturday afternoon, several dozen protesters came to the steps of Florida’s Historic Capitol and the Capitol complex area, getting cheers and honks from cars.
The group held signs such as: Protect Kids Not Guns, Gun Control Now, and Stop Praying Start Doing.
Another sign, Enough!, showed what looked like red smeared blood, likely from markers, crayons or paint.
At about 2 p.m. the situation shifted, as an anti-abortion rights group came into view, with a parade-style march in the street overlooking the Capitol complex. The gun-control group appeared surprised and disappointed that another issue, abortion, got mixed into the March For Our Lives events.
Meanwhile, Bethany Altenburg, of Tallahassee, said she was disappointed with the crowd that showed up for the protest in the state capital.
“I’m disappointed – I thought there would be more people here. And at first, I was angry, then I realized what I need to do is be more involved, so that the next time there are more people here,” she said.
She noted that she and her husband are gun owners, noting that her husband has been hunting for some 50 years.
Gun control is about “responsible gun ownership,” she said.
“First of all, we need to make gun owners more responsible. if you are irresponsible with a weapon, just like if you are irresponsible with your car, you need to be held accountable,” she told the Phoenix.
“I don’t want for guns any more than what we have for cars. Responsible car ownership, responsible gun ownership. I’m a gun owner, and I am all for it,” she said.
Ruben Nelson, of Tallahassee, said, “I thought it was not that big of a turnout, compared to 2018 when I was here for Stoneman Douglas … the whole place was packed,” Nelson said.
He noted that the college schedule may have played a part in the turnout, as well as promoting the rally in Tallahassee.
“It’s a little bit fewer people, but I think that’s primarily because of a lack of, I think, in my opinion, marketing. But then also, it’s also the summer. Not a lot of students are out here,” Nelson said. “So I think this is actually a good turnout for the message, but I don’t think it’s a good turnout to show how many people really care about the issue, in terms of a reflection of that.”
This article was first published by Florida Phoenix, part of the States Newsroom network of news bureaus with Louisiana Illuminator.
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