Joining demonstrators around the country, tens of thousands of Southern California residents enraged by the gun violence that has ravaged American schools and other public places flocked to downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to call for stricter gun control laws.
Under grey skies, demonstrators in L.A.’s March for Our Lives rally walked from Pershing Square to Grand Park, carrying handmade signs and banners that said, “Protect kids, not guns” and “I shouldn’t be afraid to send my child to school.”
The sound of drums, tambourines and call-and-response chants rippled through the crowd of thousands of students, parents and grandparents and echoed off the historic buildings of Broadway’s theater district.
"What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!"
At a rally in front of L.A. City Hall, Mayor Eric Garcetti led the crowd in a call and response chant: “Whose streets?” he said, as the crowd roared, “Our streets!” “Whose Lives?” “Our Lives!” “Whose nation?” “Our nation!”
The mayor said it was an historic day led by the country’s future leaders, “the students who are here today.”
Garcetti pointed out California’s bans on assault rifles, bump stocks and waiting periods on gun sales as a model for federal legislation and closed with a message for President Trump.
“Get with the program Mr. President, or get the hell out of the way!”
Comedian Amy Schumer, cousin of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) who also attended the march, spoke to the survivors of the Parkland shootings.
“We stand together for your senselessly slain classmates and friends and say this has to stop!”
At the end of the march, actress Rita Ora sang a rendition of the 1960s protest song “For What It’s Worth,” and some members of the crowd chimed in. She told the demonstrators: “You’re going to inspire the whole damn world.”
Crowds gathered Saturday in more than a dozen California cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Santa Clarita, Long Beach and elsewhere.
Speaking at an afternoon rally in Santa Ana, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, touted Proposition 63, which he proposed and campaigned for, as California’s answer to the NRA’s sway over federal gun policy. The 2016 voter-approved initiative banned ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and makes it a crime not to report lost or stolen guns.
“We changed the trajectory of the debate, not just in this state but all across the rest of the country,” Newsom, who is running for governor, said of the state’s laws. “Gun control saves lives!”
Organizers with NextGen America, a group started by California billionaire and activist Tom Steyer, who has already put $1 million into a nationwide youth voter registration effort, were helping to sign up new voters in Santa Ana.
“As much as we love your voice, we want to make sure your voice is counted on Nov. 6,” Steyer told the crowd. He said he plans to spend $30 million helping Democrats flip the House of Representatives this year, $3.5 million of it organizing young people in California.
At a rally outside San Francisco City Hall, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted her support for an assault weapons ban in her tough re-election campaign and urged demonstrators to extend their activism to the November mid-term elections.
“There is a bill in the Judiciary Committee to ban assault weapons with 30 cosponsors,” she told the crowd. “The problem is the gun industry. They will go out and they will support mightily people in other states that will refuse to do this. Here’s what I’m asking you to do...Will you march? Will you register? Will you see that people vote and see that you vote and your friends vote for those that would rid this country of guns?”
The crowd responded: “Yeah!”
The worldwide day of action against gun violence was sparked by student activists who have pushed lawmakers to forgo campaign contributions from the National Rifle Assn. and enact stricter gun control laws in the wake of a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 students and teachers dead.
In the thick of the march on Broadway, a group of teenagers that included Myles Pincus, 15, carried a long banner adorned with red handprints that read, “NRA has blood on its hands.”
Myles, a student at Fusion Academy, urged people not to conflate the issues of mental health and gun violence as they advocated for change. He said he had “myriad” mental health issues, and ostracizing people like him won’t solve anything.
“I don’t need to go to school and get patted down just because I have depression,” Mylessaid. “This is not a mental health issue. This is a gun issue, period.”
Many teenagers at Saturday’s rallies said they looked forward to turning 18, when they could vote for candidates who will support national gun control measures.
California election officials staffed a booth where adults could register to vote, and 16- and 17-year-olds could pre-register. The initiative, which activates teenagers’ voting eligibility when they turn 18, has pre-registered more than 88,000 people since its launch in 2016.
Sheva Gross, a child development professor at UCLA, came to the march with her daughters Talia, 8, and Flora, 11. Gross carried a sign adorned with peace signs that read, “I’m so mad, I can’t even think of a slogan.”
The girls have gone through lockdown drills at their Culver City elementary school that make them nervous, Flora said. She added: “To not come home again, like, ever — it’s overwhelming.”
Gross was in the classroom with future teachers and child welfare workers 15 minutes after the San Bernardino massacre and an hour after the Parkland shooting. She said the fear in her students’ eyes was evident.
“They grew up with this, and they’re terrified,” Gross said, breaking into tears. Flora hugged her.
Retired school principal John P. Johnson, 68, and his wife, Margy, came from Corona to march for their 13 grandchildren. Johnson, who knows the AR-15 well from his time in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, held a sign that read: “Veterans against assault weapons.”
“There is no reason to purchase an AR-15 here or anywhere in the world,” Johnson said. “It’s used for the battlefield. The bullets kill within seconds.”
Brianna Cornejo-Perez, a 14-year-old student at Santa Monica High School, came to the march with her mother, a former teacher. A fellow student in Santa Monica had posted a Snapchat photo of himself holding a gun, making fun of gun control and the Parkland shootings, unnerving her.
“We used to have lockdown drills — now we have active shooter drills,” Brianna said. “It’s a bit scary.”
Brianna and her mother said they support school psychologists, anti-bullying campaigns, and other resources for kids who don’t fit in, rather than armed security guards or police officers.
Giselle Jimenez, 17, of Alexander Hamilton High School, held a sign reading, “Silly me, I didn’t know that not wanting kids to be slaughtered by assault rifles was being political.”
“A school shooting could happen anywhere,” Giselle said. “The next victims could be me, my sister, any one of my friends.”
Ariel Burgess, 22, who recently graduated from UCLA, said there was a shooting the month she was accepted to the university. It made her question whether she would be safe there.
“Every shooting I’m saddened but never surprised,” she said. With “every shooting, the urge to change gun laws gets stronger, but nothing gets done.”
Cara Rosenbaum, 32, of Leimert Park held a sign that read, “My daughter is due in May. I’m afraid to send her to school.”
She said it’s terrifying to think about bringing a child into the world and having to worry every day about whether she will come home from school.
“As I’m preparing for parenthood, there are so many things I need to think about,” she said. “The safety of my child while she’s trying to get an education should not be one of those things.”
At the end of the march, about a dozen pro-gun activists gathered outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. They waved American flags and held signs reading, “Ban Jihad, not guns” and “Guns will ensure our freedom.”
They were separated from the March for Our Lives participants by yellow caution tape, a line of officers, a line of police bicycles, and a line of volunteers who wore orange vests and black shirts that said, “We can end gun violence.”
“How long have you been pro-mass shooter?” one man shouted across the barriers.
“All lives matter!” a pro-gun protester shouted back.
Another said, “My best friend is black!”
Jarime Uzziel, 43, said he was “standing against additional gun control.” He said he wants teachers to be trained and able to carry firearms.
Natali Valle, 20, stood on the other side and shook her head, pulling her friend into a hug. They had come by to see if the counter-protesters had any valid points, and quickly decided the answer was no.
“When people argue back and forth, there’s no communication happening,” said Valle, a student at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. “This division is … what’s causing America to fall apart.”