Demonstrators around the world demanded action on gun violence Saturday in a massive display spurred by a shooting at a Florida high school last month that left 17 people dead.
Protesters from Los Angeles to London marched, held signs and chanted during “sibling marches” of the March for Our Lives rally, which has drawn an enormous crowd of protesters to the nation’s capital.
More than 800 events were scheduled worldwide, according to the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Counterprotests and separate rallies organized by gun rights groups are also taking place.
In New York, a sea of gun-control demonstrators stretched about 20 blocks. In Boston, throngs of people jammed Boston Common. People gathered outside city hall in Las Vegas, where a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival last year.
And in Parkland, Fla., where the shooting that became the catalyst for the marches took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a large group gathered at Pine Trail Park to tell their stories and demand change.
“I would give everything to have one more day, one more hour, one more second with the sweetest boy in the world,” said Max Schachter, his voice choking up. His son, Alex, was killed at the high school. “He was 14, he was a big boy. But he was also a little boy, that still liked to lie in bed and cuddle with his mommy and daddy.”
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina died in the shooting, said that both sides of the gun debate have to be willing to compromise.
“To our legislators and political leaders, we hope you are listening to your constituents assembled around the country today,” Montalto said. “We need to change the status quo when it comes to school safety.”
After listening to speeches, the group trekked a mile and a half to Stoneman Douglas. The group stayed completely silent as they walked by the school.
One toddler being wheeled in a stroller started to cry, breaking the silence.
“Shh,” the woman pushing the child said. “We have to be quiet for the 17 angels.”
Groups gathered outside the U.S. embassies in Copenhagen, London and Stockholm; in London they shouted “gun-control now.” In Tokyo, people gathered at Shibuya Crossing, holding signs with the names of people killed in mass shootings. In Frankfurt, a group walked down a street shouting, “No guns in our schools.” In Sydney, a group of children held posters.
Megon Barrow brought her 11-month-old daughter, Zoe, to the protest in Boston — where demonstrators marched for more than two miles before rallying on Boston Common — because Barrow said the issue of gun violence will impact her daughter’s life.
A protest took place in West Palm Beach, Fla., not far from where President Trump is spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Gun control and gun rights demonstrators yelled at one another in a scene that briefly turned tense, but then diffused. In a statement Saturday, deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said: “Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s.” The spending bill signed by Trump on Friday includes a provision to tighten the nation’s background-check system and may slightly open the door to restoring federal funding for gun research.
“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” the White House statement said.
Shikha Hamilton, who helped organize the Million Mom March in 2000, marched with a large group in Richmond, Calif.
“This is not just about mass shootings. This is about the daily lives of the people you never hear about on the news, the people nobody marches for, nobody holds a candle for,” said Hamilton, who works for the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. “It’s heartbreaking for them to watch the nation finally respond when it’s white kids in a suburban school who are killed.”
Counterprotests by supporters of gun rights are taking place in cities including Helena, Mont., Boise and Salt Lake City.
In Valparaiso, Ind., gun control and gun rights demonstrators were separated by a street, silver barricades and a line police officers. As gun control demonstrators chanted, counter protesters — who called their demonstration March for Our Rights — shouted back: “All amendments matter.” “Don’t tread on me.” “Stop confusing education with intelligence.”
The loudest chants came from Spencer England, a 42-year-old from La Porte, Ind. The father of five daughters said his children all know how to shoot assault rifles and he made it a point to tell his older children about the Parkland shooting.
“As a parent I feel horrible for the kids that were killed,” he said. “But you don’t say, ‘Hey there’s 200 deaths from drinking and driving and now we take all the cars away from people.’”
In New York, a massive crowd of protesters started their demonstration in front of Trump Plaza on 61st Street. A teenage girl standing near the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot in 1980, held a sign that read, “If I die in a school shooting forget burial — drop my body on the steps of the capitol.”
Megan Bonner, 16, survived the massacre at Stoneman Douglas and spoke on a stage in Central Park. In an interview, she said she grew up with active-shooter drills but never felt unsafe.
“I never thought that it would happen at my school,” she said. “I never thought that I would have to be one of those schools, and I never thought that I would have to go up on stage and say that I was a survivor.”
Bonner said she knew Nikolas Cruz, the alleged shooter in last month’s massacre.
“My friends constantly reported that he was threatening them,” Bonner said. “For instance, he told my friend that he was excited to gut her like a fish and play with her dead body.” She said she wants to see enhanced background checks and a waiting period for people who want to buy guns.
Joe Bermudez, 58, said he is a supporter of President Trump and gun rights — and that no one on either side wants violence.
“They are lovely Americans that are marching here,” he said, gesturing to the crowd. “They don’t want any violence, and we don’t want bloodshed any more than they want it.”
High school juniors Lindsy Voelker and Sophia Reynolds go to school in rural Boiceville, N.Y., where they said many people own guns. They wore orange T-shirts that read “Enough” in multiple languages and featured tally marks to represent lives lost to gun violence. Reynolds, 17, said no one at her school spoke about the Parkland shooting, and that the silence made her mad.
“I was angry, because it’s like 17 students were killed and then no one talks about it. It’s crazy — we’re students,” Reynolds said. “If we’re going to be the future of this country, we need to be taught about these things, so if we want to do anything about it, then we have the choice.”
Some in New York came to protest the protesters. Jim McDonald, a 68-year-old New Yorker, wore an National Rifle Association hat and said the demonstrators are “leftists and communists” — and misinformed about guns.
“These people do not understand that the Second Amendment means that a citizen can bear the same arms that an ordinary soldier would,” he said.
In Columbus, Ga., the theme of a rally that was larger than expected seemed to be that, even in the South, gun control can be a viable cause.
“This is very significant,” organizer Carolyn Weinbaum said. “This many people in this community in this part of the country. The open question is where do we take it from here, as a community.”
Nick Rulon, a student at Columbus State University College of the Arts, said he planned to attend the rally in Atlanta.
“But when I found out there was a rally going on in Columbus, I knew it was much more important to be a part of the dialogue here, in my community,” he said.
In Parkland, Anishka Milleret pushed a wheelchair through the grass and up and down the small hillocks at Pine Trail Park.
Her daughters, Dianna and Deanna Milleret, 16-year-old twins, are sophomores at Stoneman Douglas. Deanna’s cerebral palsy requires her to be in a wheelchair much of the time.
“They both have memories of that day, and they’re both dealing with it in their own ways,” Milleret said.
Along with the trauma of being in school during the shooting, the Millerets had the added anxiety of not being able to locate Deanna for hours afterward. She was evacuated along with hundreds of other students to a nearby hotel, but it took her mother hours to get to her.
“I’m hoping things can get back to normal at some point,” Milleret said. “I think they will. I hope so.”
Zayn Gregory, 13, and her 16-month-old sister, Raeviane, wore matching “MSD strong” T-shirts, as did their father, James Gregory. Zayn said adults should pay attention to the teenagers.
“We are speaking up so this never happens again,” Zayn said. “I think people need to listen to us. We can’t vote now, but we will soon.”
Donna Bryson in Denver; Diana Crandall and Philip Bump in New York; Jim Lynn in Columbus, Ga.; Lori Rosza in Parkland, Fla.; Victoria St. Martin in Valparaiso, Ind., Doug Struck in Boston and Mark Berman in Washington contributed to this report.