Videos and Article by Ford Fischer and Alejandro Alvarez
Photos by Alejandro Alvarez
Calls for gun control echoed down Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday, as the student-led “March for Our Lives” took to the streets a month after 17 were killed in a Florida high school.
Starting early morning, thousands – including students from well out of state – joined young leaders including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School peers Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky addressed the whole of Pennsylvania Avenue from a stage near the Capitol. Interspersed with performances from celebrities, nobody over the age of 19 spoke live.
Though the exact number of marchers might never be known – city officials do not generally make crowd estimates – the size of Saturday’s march easily swelled into the hundreds of thousands, likely putting it on a similar level to the Women’s March as one of the largest Washington protests in recent memory. March organizers released an estimate of 800,000 shortly after the event, though crowd counting is an inexact science.
Speeches addressed policy-centric demands for gun reform, repeatedly denounced the National Rifle Association, and roused the crowd with a call to action in the midterms come November. In one notable moment, Gonzalez led the entirety of the rally in a 6 minute, 20 second moment of silence representing the span of time in which gunman Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people on February 14.
Amid hundreds of thousands of gun control advocates, a small group of counter-protesters held what they called a “Patriot Picket” promoting armed security as a more effective safety measure for schools than curtailing Second Amendment protections.
The group of about 50, which included members of patriot group Three Percenters, marched in at Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street shortly after the rally started. They wore tactical gear but were unarmed due to District laws and special event restrictions banning all firearms within the event’s permit area.
“We’re representing the second amendment’s most important function, and that’s to protect the first amendment being exercised by the masses of people today,” Dick Heller told News2Share while participating in the Patriot Picket.
Heller was the plaintiff in the landmark gun rights Supreme Court case Heller v. District of Columbia, which struck down provisions of DC’s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 as unconstitutional. The case resulted in Washington DC having to issue concealed carry permits for handguns in the district.
“We simply want the folks who are gathered here to remember that our republic can’t operate without civil rights,” Patriot Picket Founder Jeff Hulbert. “The second amendment does serve a purpose.” Hulbert said he came prepared in the event that protesters attacked his group. “We brought helmets just in case,” he said.
The militia group remained largely isolated for the rest of the day save for a handful of heated, albeit peaceful, arguments with protesters. Some shook hands, agreeing to disagree. Protesters chanted “shame” repeatedly over the demonstration, and about a dozen students formed a line separating the militia from the rest of the march. There were no physical altercations or arrests.
One activist at the DC “March for our Lives” mocked the NRA as the “National Small Penis Association.”
“Hey hey, we’re insecure small penised white guys for Trump. Don’t take our guns away,” he chanted. “We view the NRA as our brothers in arms and small penises” he told News2Share. “A lot of people naively thought that just because an insecure small-penised white guy was elected as president, that the racism against us insecure small-penised white guys was going to magically disappear overnight.”
“That’s not the case. Look what happened to Bill O’Reilly,” he added.
The next major event in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting is the National School Walkout on April 20, similar in nature – though separately organized – from a nationwide Women’s March Youth event on March 14.