US rally organizers vow no letup in gun control campaign

by Ian Timberlake

Washington (AFP) - Student organizers of gun control rallies that drew hundreds of thousands to US streets vowed Sunday there will be no letup in their campaign for reform.

The nationwide protests on Saturday were by far the largest in nearly two decades, part of a reignited gun control debate sparked by last month's killings at a Florida high school.

"This is not the end. This is just the beginning," Emma Gonzalez, a leader of the movement, said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Gonzalez, 17, is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, north of Miami, which was traumatized into action last month after 14 students and three staff were killed by a former student armed with a military-style rifle.

She captivated Saturday's rally in Washington, the nation's largest, with a tearful eulogy for her dead schoolmates.

"Get out there and vote," she pleaded, following a lengthy silence to symbolize the timespan of the shooting spree.

In a country with more than 30,000 gun-related deaths a year, Gonzalez is among those calling for legislative action.

"We're going to be revving up for the elections" this November, when Congressional seats will be at stake, Gonzalez said on CBS.

"Over the summer we're going to try to go around to colleges and... reach out to the kids locally around the country."

Cameron Kasky, a fellow student from Stoneman Douglas, said the rallies -- including the Washington protest that filled streets around the US Capitol building -- prompted many voter registrations and discussions.

"So the fact that this movement has so many people realizing that it's important to get out to the polls is what I think is one of the best things that we've accomplished," Kasky said on "Fox News Sunday."

The students said that Washington has done little, despite some initial signs that President Donald Trump would take greater action after the Parkland shooting.

Trump's administration is increasing aid to states that want to arm school staff, endorsed minor legislation to improve background checks by gun dealers, and announced a commission on school safety, among other measures.

"I was not impressed, at all," Kasky said, noting that churches, nightclubs and theaters as well as schools have all been targeted by gunmen.

He and other students want assault weapons and high-capacity magazines banned, and the age limit raised to 21 for gun purchases.

"What causes all these shootings? What's the one thing to tie everything together? There's no specific mental health problem that makes all these shootings happen, it's the weapon," Kasky said.

- Students aren't going away -

"And the fact that they aren't taking any action toward it is proof that we need to keep on going."

He and Delaney Tarr, another Stoneman Douglas student, suggested Trump had backed away from firmer action after he met with the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group.

Mercedes Schlapp, a senior White House advisor, told Fox News that Trump "has taken immediate action" to address gun safety.

"We want to make sure that the good people are the ones who are able to carry the firearms," Schlapp said.

"We want to keep the firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals," she said. "That's what we are focused on."

In an editorial, The Washington Post said the measures taken by Trump and Congress so far are welcome, but just "baby steps."

The newspaper said the students have made clear "they aren't going away" in their push for action.

Ohio's moderate Republican Governor John Kasich, a possible 2020 presidential contender, agreed that his party could face an electoral backlash if Congress does not act on gun control.

"I really do believe that," he told CNN, adding that the students' momentum must continue.

"If they don't keep it up, those that want no change will just sit on their hands."

The students got some implicit support on Sunday from Pope Francis, who did not specifically mention the gun protests but urged youth not to be silenced.

"Dear young people, you have it in you to shout," the pontiff told the traditional Palm Sunday mass in Vatican City.