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Half a million expected in DC to rally for changes in gun laws

Updated March 23, 2018 - 5:02 pm

WASHINGTON — Demanding changes in the nation’s gun laws, as many as 500,000 students, parents and survivors of mass shootings are poised to rally in the nation’s capital Saturday.

The March for Our Lives and 835 sibling events worldwide, including those in Las Vegas and Reno, are a show of solidarity for the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last month.

“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises. And so I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now,” Cameron Kasky, 17, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, says on the March for Our Lives website.

Gun control advocacy groups have joined in organizing the march that will take place along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol.

Survivors of other mass shootings are participating in what is expected to be one of the largest gatherings here.

Heather Gooze, a survivor of the Oct. 1 shooting on the Strip, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year on the need for gun control measures and a ban on bump stocks, devices that accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire.

Her emotional testimony about that night — and about talking with the family of a Canadian man who died as she tried to help him with his wounds — left the committee room hushed with sorrow.

Gooze asked lawmakers to ban bump stocks, which allowed Stephen Paddock to shoot 1,100 rounds into the crowd of Las Vegas concertgoers, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500 others.

Congress has not addressed the sale and possession of bump stocks, though President Donald Trump has asked the Justice Department to streamline a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives review of the devices and move to ban them.

“It’s kind of full circle for me,” Gooze said Friday about attending the march. “We are going to make a difference. And I feel like I made a difference when I was here in December.”

However, the show of force on gun violence will take place during a congressional recess. Many lawmakers have left town for two weeks, raising the prospect that any momentum from the march could fade before they return to work April 9.

Gooze will participate in the march with Dave Maynard. Both were bartenders at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas when the shooting broke out.

They are staying in Virginia with the parents of a student killed in the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

“We were invited out by other survivors” of shootings in Virginia, Tucson and Aurora, Colorado, said Gooze, who will meet them for breakfast in D.C. on Saturday.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to represent Vegas out here,” she said.

Also participating are Caitlyn Caruso and Cecelia Gonzalez, two UNLV students and gun violence prevention advocates from Las Vegas.

Caruso, 21, said she is attending the march to build a network that can help statewide efforts in Nevada to tackle various issues in the gun violence debate.

Gonzalez, 26, hopes the march helps grassroots efforts to bring about change on the federal level. “I can only call a lawmaker so many times a day,” she said.

The survivors of the Florida shooting “have created a movement that is going to shift the conversation on gun violence,” Gonzalez said.

The March for Our Lives will be a series of programs that will include musical performances and student speakers. None of the speakers will be older than 18, according to organizers.

Federal agents and D.C. police will be deployed to provide security for the crowd, which is expected to equal the size of the Women’s March last year and the Obama presidential inaugurations.

The march will also be held on the same weekend as the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The opening day of that festival was moved from Saturday to Sunday to help avoid congestion that could overwhelm public transportation and roadways.

As it is, the D.C. government plans to close roads surrounding the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue where the march will be held.

Because of the expected crowd size, Jumbotrons have been installed along Pennsylvania Avenue. The event is being funded by celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and George Clooney.

Assisting in the organization of the march and sibling events is Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Courage, groups that advocate for gun control measures.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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