WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the nation's capital and around the country Saturday in the student-led "March for Our Lives" protest to demand an end to school shootings and called on Congress to pass restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition.
With chants of "Vote them out!" students from across the country made it known to politicians that when they are able to vote in 2018 or 2020 they will vote against lawmakers who stand with the National Rifle Association and oppose what they consider common sense gun legislation.
"Welcome to the revolution," Cameron Kasky, a student survivor of the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, told the crowd during a speech at the beginning of the rally. "It is a powerful and peaceful one because it is of, by and for the young people of this country."
Kasky, who along with his classmates have become the face of the most recent youth-led push for gun control, declared that that he and the thousands of marchers in Washington and those joining sister marches across the country are demanding three things.
He called for legislation that bans the sale of assault weapons, bans the sale of high-capacity magazines and requires universal background checks for all firearm sales in the United States.
"My generation — having seen our entire lives mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting — has learned that our voices are powerful and our votes matter," Kasky asserted. "We must educate ourselves and start conversations to keep our country moving forward. We hereby promise to fix the broken system that we have been forced into and create a better world for the generations to come."
The rally's organizers partnered with an organization called HeadCount, which reportedly sent nearly 1,000 volunteers to registers students participating in the Washington rally to vote.
"The winter is over. Change is here. The sun shines on a new day, and the day is ours," David Hogg, another survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, said. "First-time voters show up 18 percent of the time in midterm elections. Not anymore."
Several of the speakers shared how gun violence changed their lives forever.
Washington, D.C. resident Zion Kelly, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy, spoke about the loss of his twin brother, Zaire, who was killed last year at the age of 16.
"From the time we were born, we shared everything. I spent time with him every day because we went to the same schools, shared the same friends and we even shared the same room," Kelly explained. "Can you imagine how it would be to lose someone that close to you? Sadly, too many of my friends and peers can. This year alone, my school lost two students to senseless gun violence."
March attendees who spoke to The Christian Post said they either supported or did not oppose the march organizers' calls for stricter gun laws.
Rebecca, a community college student from Detroit, Michigan, and her friend Jillia, a student at Madonna University, told CP that they definitely want to see more gun control.
"I am looking for stricter gun policies — 100 percent," Jillia said. "If you are on the no-fly list you shouldn't get a gun."
Rebecca added: "Automatic weapons don't need to be used for recreational use."
March for Our Lives organizers argue that reducing gun violence in schools is "not a political issue" and that there can't be "two sides" when it comes to this issue.
While a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows that about two-thirds of Americans support a ban on assault weapons, a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that fewer Republicans (29 percent) back an assault weapons ban than they did in 1999.
Many conservatives feel that such gun control measures would infringe upon Second Amendment rights to "keep and bear arms." Small groups of conservatives in other areas of country held their own rallies in response to the March for Our Lives demonstrations to speak out against gun control initiatives.
"The well-armed civilian population of America is and always has been America's ultimate strength in this world," Pennsylvania resident John Paul Harris Jr. said at a rally outside of a courthouse in Milford.
While violence in schools was the inspiration for the student-led demonstrations, 19-year-old Chicago resident Trevon Bosley, who said his brother was killed by gun violence, told the crowd that violence plagues the streets of many inner cities, including his hometown, on a daily basis.
He also offered an alternative reason for Chicago's high crime rate.
"When you have a city that feels like it's more important to pay for a college sports complex rather than fund schools and communities, you have gun violence," Bosley said. "When we have a city that feels we need more in downtown Chicago for tourists than to give residents jobs, you have gun violence."
Katie, a late-20s public health worker living in Baltimore, Maryland, told CP that it's a misconception to think that "we are only marching here today because we want to get rid of guns."
"I just think that assault rifles should not be able [to be purchased]," she said. "Drinking age is 21 but you can buy a gun at 18."
When asked if there are other societal factors at play when it comes to the alarming amount of gun violence in American schools, Katie explained that there are issues when it comes to public and mental health that should be looked at.
"It's a stigma to go to therapy, especially for men," the mental health worker said. "Men don't go to therapy. If they do, people look down upon them for doing that. But I think therapy is very healthy."
She suggested that it would be a good idea for more funding to be put toward mental health initiatives and research.
"You can't just say, 'Let's work on mental health problems' and then not back it up with anything," Katie warned. "I am all for it as long as there is funding that goes into an initiative of looking into exactly what makes people flip that switch."
Jonathan, a 17 year old who attends a private church school in Ontario, Canada, also traveled to Washington for the rally.
"I feel the need to support the men and women of my generation that are my age who are going through this," he said. "We might be separated by a border but there is a human tie that links us and there is that human call for justice and mercy that brought me across the border to show that I love the young people of the United States."
Jonathan believes that it's a mistake to think that passing legislation is the only solution to the problem. He suggested that the one true solution involves the world turning back to God and embracing biblical principles.
"You are not going to find [the answer] in a Republican or a Democrat," he contended. "It's not going to work."
The student also voiced concern about the societal infatuation with Hollywood and the entertainment industry's promotion of violence. He also stressed the impact that violent video games are having on desensitized children.
Although there was a sister march held in Michigan, Jillia and Rebecca still felt the need to take the daylong drive to Washington.
"They are doing it in every city obviously, but the high school kids wanted it here," she said. "I think just the importance that we drove eight hours to come here shows that we are very dedicated, and we are very strongly behind this."