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 on 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 shooting 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 were simple and white, with the names of victims of gun violence.
About 100 residents from Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six teachers, traveled to Washington together, organizers said.
Participant Kara Baekey from nearby Norwalk, Conn., said that when she heard about the Newtown shooting, she immediately thought of her two young children. She said she decided she must take action, and that's why she traveled to Washington for the march.
"I wanted to make sure this never happens at my kids' school or any other school," Baekey said. "It just can't happen again."
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 told the crowd it's not about taking away Second Amendment gun rights, but about gun safety and saving lives. He said he and President Barack 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."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting representative in Congress, said the gun lobby can be stopped, and the crowd chanted back, "Yes, we can."
"We are all culpable if we do nothing now," Norton said
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 "We repealed prohibition."
Molly Smith, the artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage, and her partner organized the march. Organizers said that in addition to the 100 people from Newtown, buses of participants traveled from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. Others flew in from Seattle, San Francisco and Alaska, they said.
While she's never organized a political march before, Smith said she was compelled to press for a change in the law. The march organizers support Obama's call for gun control measures. They also want lawmakers to require gun safety training for all buyers of firearms.
"With the drum roll, the consistency of the mass murders and the shock of it, it is always something that is moving and devastating to me. And then, it's as if I move on," Smith said. "And in this moment, I can't move on. I can't move on.
"I think it's because it was children, babies," she said. "I was horrified by it."
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 have 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 from 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 mass killings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., 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."
March on Washington for Gun Control: http://www.guncontrolmarch.com/
Follow Brett Zongker at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat
Also on HuffPost:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."