A group of residents from Newtown, Conn., joined what organizers said were several thousand people taking part Saturday in a march on the Mall in support of gun-control measures, hopeful their presence will add momentum to legislative efforts to enact tougher laws.
“We’re living in the middle of a crisis,” said Dave Ackert, a father of two from Newtown who helped organize the group, which included others from the state. “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 that the March on Washington for Gun Control will be the first of several such events to push for tougher laws when public opinion on the issue seems to be shifting.
The issue prompted a White House summit on gun policy, and marchers heard from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who invoked a memory from his time as chief executive of Chicago public schools.
“I used to have a drawing on my desk from a child,” Duncan said. “It said, ‘If I grow up, I want to be a fireman.’ ‘If I grow up.’ Far too many children are growing up in an environment where they are scared. Our country deserves better than that.”
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’s organizers. “This is a movement, an honest-to-God movement.”
A few counterprotesters were also present.
Twenty children were killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, along with six adults.
Adam Lanza, 20, whom police identified as the shooter, also killed his mother, Nancy, and himself. The shootings shook the New England town and shocked the nation.
Stacy Blinn of Stratford, Conn., said she was marching in memory of Chase Kowalski, 7, one of the first-graders killed at Sandy Hook.
Blinn went to high school with Chase’s mother, and he and Blinn’s 5-year-old son were friends.
Smith, the artistic director of Arena Stage, along with her partner, American Indian activist Suzanne Blue Star Boy, helped organize the march. Co-sponsors included One Million Moms for Gun Control, Washington National Cathedral, Foundry United Methodist Church in the District and Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Speakers included Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), actress Kathleen Turner, and Colin Goddard, who was shot four times during the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech that killed 32.
This month, President Obama unveiled a far-reaching package of measures to reshape gun laws. Last week, Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.), 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.
Friends of Jason Emma, who was fatally shot outside his home on Capitol Hill on Christmas Eve morning, attended the march. Emma, 28, had recently moved to the District from Arlington County to share a rowhouse with longtime friends.
Police have offered $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in his killing.
Joan Huskins, a Sandy Hook resident, said she came to represent those who couldn’t be in Washington.
“A lot of these kids are neighbors, friends, younger siblings of my friends’ kids,” she said. “I hope that we are able to get stronger gun control after this, to expand more services for prevention and treatment. It needs to change now.”
Marian Mollin, who teaches history at Virginia Tech and was there during the shooting in 2007 said the violence has to end.
“Every time you see another shooting like Sandy Hook, you relive it. It’s like [the] whole community has PTSD.”