CHICAGO — Student-led rallies around the country on Saturday aimed to show support for gun rights, but their effort drew smaller-than-expected crowds in a bid to counter the well-funded and organized youth gun-control lobby that emerged after the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this year.
Here in Chicago, people rallied in a corner of Millennium Park. In Los Angeles, protesters yelled “gun rights are human rights” as they marched near Pershing Square. In Washington, an American flag billowed against a backdrop of the Capitol as attendees said guns are being used as scapegoats and that society’s problems run deeper than firearms.
Students who say their views have been silenced in recent months as vocal gun-control advocates have been monopolizing attention used the marches as a way to raise awareness of their fears that hasty solutions could lead to an erosion of the Second Amendment.
Colin FitzSimmons, 13, of Algonquin, Ill., spoke at the Chicago rally, sounding alarms that liberal gun-control efforts really want to “to disarm the populace.” People held signs reading “we’re not going away” and “take back gun rights.”
“Our generation isn’t going to embrace gun control,” Colin said, noting that any changes to gun laws need to be carefully considered. “The devil is in the details.”
The rallies came amid a wave of gun-control activism sparked by the February shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It led to nationwide marches and backing from large groups and donors.
Organizers of Saturday’s marches said many conservative students feel as though their views are not being taken into consideration in the debate about school shootings, and the marches on Saturday were planned as a way to show that not all students support gun control.
Planning for Saturday’s rallies started in April, weeks after gun-control rallies took place in the District and other cities. Some of Saturday’s organizers found one another on Instagram and Facebook and decided to speak out against what they saw as an attack on gun ownership. They expected a modest turnout on Saturday, but far fewer people showed up than organizers had hoped.
In Chicago, organizers planned for about 125 people, but the rally drew approximately 35. The group gathered in a corner of Millennium Park, not on the Great Lawn, because organizers did not secure a permit and park security forced them to leave.
Earlier in the morning in the same city, hundreds of protesters shut down 10 blocks of the Dan Ryan Expressway, one of the busiest interstates in the United States. Their march along the highway was in protest of gun violence and gun-related deaths in Chicago, and the disruption drew widespread attention — and some scorn, from groups including the National Rifle Association.
The Second Amendment activists gathered about an hour later.
Kevin Yan, an 18-year-old University of Chicago student, said he is “an outlier” at his school because he is passionate about the Second Amendment. He said he has never owned a gun and has never shot a gun, but he believes gun ownership is “a critical American tradition” and “really important for self-defense.”
“The media always says the millennial generation has decided it’s against gun rights,” he said. “We are here to show that’s not true.”
In Palm Beach, Fla., about 100 people were expected to rally at a park; 13 came, including organizer Ashley Johnson, three speakers and the parents of two of the speakers.
The event was meant to be a counterpoint to the March for Our Lives rallies that attracted thousands across the country after the February shooting, including at events in Florida.
“The goal is to be just as successful as March for Our Lives,” Johnson said. “We want to outdo them.”
Ralph Curra, 14, who was an eighth-grader at Westglades Middle School, which is adjacent to Stoneman Douglas, spoke at the event. He recalled hearing the screams from next door, and being on lockdown for five hours as the investigation began into the Feb. 14 attack.
Ralph spoke to the small crowd about his experience, and about how it prompted him to research guns and gun violence. He said changes to Florida gun laws enacted after the Parkland shooting are misguided.
“Raising the age to buy a gun, all you parents out there, when you send your child to college, don’t you want them to be able to protect themselves from criminals?” he asked. “The new laws will leave your child vulnerable to attack in today’s dangerous society.”
Johnson said she was disappointed in the turnout.
“I don’t know why more people didn’t show up. I think a lot of conservatives are just afraid to show up for public events,” she said through tears.
In the District, a few dozen high schoolers, college students and recent graduates came together near the Capitol for the Second Amendment march. American flags and “Make America Great Again” hats dotted the crowd.
Tyler Yzaguirre, president of the Second Amendment Institute, told the gathering that although they were few in number, they would show the left that no one should be afraid to defend their rights.
Organizer Morgan Sachs greeted the group and thanked everyone for coming.
“The media doesn’t seem to like to talk about pro-gun students, they only want to talk about anti-gun rhetoric,” she said. “Our voices are going to be heard now.”
Rozsa reported from Palm Beach, Fla.; Paul and Zezima reported from Washington.