Thousands of people from the Washington region and the nation marched in the District to call on the U.S. Congress to adopt President Obama's plan to stop deaths due to gun violence.
The March on Washington for Gun Control, organized by Molly Smith, the artistic director for the Arena Stage in Southwest and American Indian activist Suzanne Blue Star Boy of the District, took place on Saturday, Jan. 26. Gary Perry, a resident of Northwest, joined the estimated 1,000 people at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to walk silently to the grounds of the Washington Monument to protest what he said is an unacceptable situation in the District.
"I think that it is absurd that military weapons are on the streets of Washington," said Perry, 62. "There is a steady stream of shootings in the city but we as residents have become desensitized to it."
The murders of dozens of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 fueled the march, Smith said. A contingent of parents, family members and friends of those slain in Newtown participated in the march.
The Children's Defense Fund in Northwest published statistics on Jan. 3 that showed that a child or teen dies or is injured from guns every 30 minutes. The statistics also reveal that seven youngsters die every day from gun violence and that 52 young people perish due to guns every week.
The statistics are real for Timothy Hewlin of Southeast. His son, Demetrius died on Feb. 27, 2012 because of gun violence in Chardon, Ohio.
"Demetrius was in school in the cafeteria at 7:30 a.m. when someone who was not a student or employed at the school came in and starting shooting," said Hewlin, 52. He carried a sign with a picture of his son during the march.
Hewlin said that five children were shot and three died, one being his son.
"Demetrius died the next day in the hospital and he was only 16," he said. "Demetrius was an only child and once you lose a child there is a pain that never goes away. That is a phone call you hope you never get."
Young adults are dying as a result of gun violence, something that Deborah Hill of Landover, Md., knows well.
"A neighbor of mine, D'Lonte Days, was shot to death last year," said Hill, 48. "D'Lonte was only 23. We need stiffer gun laws to protect people and to stop them from getting into the hands of our children."
Mary Silva of Silver Spring participated in the march because she has seen the devastating effects of gun violence on society in general.
"I was in the city when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in 1968," said Silva, 69. "I was also here when [former Reagan press secretary] James Brady was shot in 1981. I believe in eliminating semi-automatic assault weapons because they are for our men and women in the military, not civilians."
The federal ban on the sale of military-style assault rifles is one of five measures that the marchers want Congress to act on. The others include: banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines that kill people quickly, requiring universal criminal and mental health background checks for all firearm purchasers, prohibiting the sale of bullets that explode inside the body and requiring gun safety training for all purchasers of firearms.
Earlier during the week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), introduced legislation to ban assault weapons but it will be an uphill battle in the Senate because Republicans and some Democrats oppose the ban.
Meanwhile, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told those who attended that the march symbolizes that the American people are becoming more aware of the reality of death from firearms but challenged the marchers to get involved in the legislative process to change the nation's gun laws.
"Gun violence has taken on a life of its own," said Norton, 75. "There should be no more moaning. The gun lobby can be stopped and you can stop them."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan agreed.
"This march is a starting point [to stop gun violence], not an end point," said Duncan, 49.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) also addressed the crowd. Mendelson's colleagues, D.C. Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Kenyon McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) also attended the march but didn't speak at the rally.
Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund.
Perry said that the galvanization of people for this cause reminds him of another time when children who died changed public policy.
"This reminds me of the killing of the four black girls in the Birmingham church in 1963 and that woke up the nation like the Newtown incident did," he said.