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March For Our Lives rallies across U.S. push for gun control

CHERYL W THOMPSON, HOST:

Around the country today, thousands rallied for stronger gun safety laws. Hundreds of events were scheduled in the wake of the most recent string of deadly mass shootings and as Congress is considering ways to limit them. NPR's Jennifer Ludden was on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C., today and joins us now. Hi, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hi there.

THOMPSON: So, Jennifer, these rallies were organized by March for Our Lives, the same group that staged huge demonstrations in 2018. What was their message today?

LUDDEN: Yes. These were - it is created by survivors of a high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. And, you know, this - I just want to say this was not nearly as large as the huge 2018 rallies we saw, but they have kept at this. Many might remember David Hogg, one of the most high-profile of these Parkland students. And he was on the stage today. Here's what he said.

DAVID HOGG: I'm here because I don't want anybody to live this nightmare anymore. No matter your politics, no one should. I'm here because, like you, I love this country. And for it to function, we need to understand that rights are power, and with power comes responsibility. All Americans have a right to not be shot, a right to safety.

LUDDEN: And so here we had people gathered, talking about safety and the fear that they feel. And, Cheryl, I'll tell you, there was just this really odd, confusing point at - toward the end when lots of people just suddenly started running away from the stage. The speaker told them to stop. They said there was no threat. And then someone else suggested someone had taken advantage of, quote, "the fear we live with every day in life." It was confusing and sad.

THOMPSON: Aside from that, what did you hear from people who turned out today to join the rally?

LUDDEN: So much frustration, so much anger. You know, many had been advocating for years. I spoke with Christine Martin (ph). She came from Orlando, Fla. She was galvanized after the Pulse nightclub shooting there. She said she wanted to come to demonstrate in D.C., though, to send a message to lawmakers.

CHRISTINE MARTIN: I'm not against guns, per se, as far as like, if you're going hunting or something, but nobody needs to be able to go in and kill 30 people in 10 minutes. It's ridiculous.

LUDDEN: I also spoke with Iris de la Paz (ph). She's a substitute teacher, one of many teachers, I might add. They were out in force. And like many of them, she does not think that hardening schools and giving teachers guns, as many Republicans suggest, is the answer.

IRIS DE LA PAZ: I know a lot of teachers, and so I know that they won't necessarily take guns. And it's - why are we going to arm teachers with guns and not books and social services and, you know, even health services in the school? They could provide those kinds of things over arms.

LUDDEN: She and others also said that this seemed like a dangerous idea - that if there were more guns in schools, it could lead to more injuries or deaths, not fewer.

THOMPSON: So, Jennifer, Congress is negotiating ways to limit gun violence right now. Some March For Our Lives members were on Capitol Hill lobbying, right? So what specifically is being considered?

LUDDEN: Right. Well, you know, we've got completely different stories in the House and the Senate. So I would just note that earlier this week, the House actually did pass quite a sweeping piece of legislation with a number of measures that a lot of people on the Mall today were calling for, President Biden has called for. You know, they voted to raise the age to buy certain semiautomatic weapons and have new restrictions on high-capacity magazines, among other things. That is not what is happening at the Senate.

The Senate is where this is, you know, going to come down to. There's a lot of Republican opposition to restricting access to guns. But there is a bipartisan group there trying to find what they can all agree on, you know, and what can win the support of at least 10 Republicans when part of what they're discussing are so-called red flag laws to encourage states to pass them, and that would allow police or family members to temporarily take a gun away from someone who is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

THOMPSON: Well, there is broad public support for gun safety laws. That was clear again this week in a poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist. And we're in an election year. So was there any sense, Jennifer, of hope from people at the rally that Congress might actually do something this time?

LUDDEN: You know, not much. I didn't find anyone super hopeful, although they said they would keep coming out until there is action. I will note that in the NPR, PBS and Marist poll, actually, a majority of gun owners, along with a majority of Americans, said it's more important to control gun violence than to protect gun rights. You know, meanwhile, I think it's just, you know, worth noting that guns have now become the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. Many people talked about this as a very American problem. And, you know, while the media has given so much focus on recent shootings, like, you know, Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, N.Y., there are so many more that happen that don't get that same attention. There's one independent nonprofit that tracks this and says, so far this year, there have been more than 250 mass shootings in the U.S.

THOMPSON: I've been speaking with NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Thank you, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.