By Jamie Landers and Ufon Umanah
On a sweltering Saturday morning, about 400 people gathered in downtown Dallas calling for solutions to gun violence.
Sparked by last month’s massacre at a Texas elementary school, some demonstrators carried messages in remembrance of victims of mass shootings. They chanted and held signs as they made their way through the city, and many spoke out about changes they wanted to see.
“It’s important that we utilize our voice in matters that are important to us,” said John Peavler, 48. “We need to not cower from difficult issues, we need to stand up and make our voices heard.”
March for Our Lives, a youth-led group that advocates for gun control, held more than 300 marches around the nation Saturday in response to recent shootings, including the one on May 24 in Uvalde that left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead.
Additional North Texas marches took place in Fort Worth, Frisco and Rockwall, with the flagship demonstration in Washington, D.C. — where the first rally of its kind was held in 2018 after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that killed 17.
The Dallas event started with a march from Dealey Plaza to Dallas City Hall, where speakers included student organizers Naz Soysal and Karter Stanton and representatives from activist groups Gays Against Guns and Moms Demand Action, among others.
One organizer, 18-year-old James Thompson, said the group was calling for a number of gun-control measures, including universal background checks, assault weapon bans, a waiting period to purchase a gun and more investment in community services, such as after-school programs.
“Gun violence and poverty happens in areas that have been left behind,” Thompson said, “And we want to make sure that our communities are not left behind and are invested in so that this violence doesn’t occur.”
Kathyrn Vargas, 30, of Moms Demand Action, said the Uvalde shooting made things personal for people in the same way as the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart — the event that prompted her to start advocating for gun control.
“We all have kids or we have little siblings or something,” Vargas said. “Everyone has a child in their life.”
Vargas and numerous other attendees honored the Uvalde victims and their families through their messages, ribbons, photos and signs. One sign read “Where is your amazing courage now? Thank you Mr. Reyes” — an ode to Arnulfo Reyes, a Robb Elementary School teacher, who was wounded in the shooting and lost 11 of his students as police took 78 minutes to intervene and kill the gunman.
The Uvalde shooter legally bought the weapons and ammunition he used just days after his 18th birthday.
Soysal turned 18 in May and said she doesn’t understand why Texas laws prevent someone her age from renting a car or purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, but not a gun.
“The government says I’m not mentally ready for those things, so how am I mentally ready to possess a weapon that’s sole purpose is to kill,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Despite repeated calls for increased gun control after mass shootings in El Paso, Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs and Plano, the Texas Legislature passed several laws in 2021 that enhanced gun rights, including allowing Texans to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.
Soysal said she can only think of two reasons they’re “going backwards”: a culture of “gun glorification,” and the fact numerous Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott, receive contributions from the National Rifle Association.
Soysal implied the shooters in Uvalde, Buffalo and other mass shootings didn’t act alone because Republican lawmakers “are complicit with their lack of action.”
Democrats and at least two Republican lawmakers have called for a special session amid the renewed calls for firearm restrictions, including raising the age to purchase a gun to 21 and a “red flag” law that would keep firearms out of the hands of people believed to be a danger to themselves.
Instead, Abbott called on the state legislature to form special committees to investigate areas he found important to improve on after Uvalde. He did not list gun control, but noted “school safety, mental health, social media, police training, firearm safety and more.”
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running to unseat Abbott in November, tweeted that the governor “called THREE special sessions last year alone. But he can’t be bothered to call one now to keep our kids from being killed.”
Some members of Saturday’s crowd in Dallas said that while they supported Republicans in the past, they are disappointed with the party’s current priorities.
There were no counterprotesters at the Dallas rally, but some showed up to the march in Fort Worth. In a video posted online, a woman could be seen yelling at protesters that she came to “protect her rights.”