Roughly 10,000 people marched from Austin’s City Hall to the steps of the Texas State Capitol on Saturday, rallying in response to a student-led movement demanding stricter gun laws. It was one of more than 800 “March for Our Lives” protests happening across the country.
The march was organized by students with the help of local activist groups after a mass shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.
The students have expressed frustration with what they say is the inaction of adults, especially legislators. Organizers of March For Our Lives in Austin hope the march will push lawmakers to stand behind legislation that would end gun violence and mass shooting in schools.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah Payet was at the march with her parents. She attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in southwest Austin. She said a group from her high school decided to attend to support the safety of students.
“It’s really important to me that, not only me, but everyone else in this country is safe at their schools,” she said. “I’m here fighting not just for me, but for everyone.”
When asked what kind of policies she would like to see, Payet said she’d like it to be harder to get a gun. In particular, she argued in favor of raising the minimum age of purchase from 18 to 21.
“If you’re not legally allowed to drink alcohol,” Payet said, “it shouldn’t be easy to get a gun.”
Protesters yelled chants such as, “Not one more!” and, “The NRA has got to go!” They held signs and called for gun regulations including raising minimum age to buy a gun, a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks that would require almost all firearm transactions go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Jack Haimowitz survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The high school senior will be attending the UT McCombs School of Business in the fall.
“I stand here before you all right here, right now to say that we are the change that we never knew we needed,” he said to marchers gathered at the Texas Capitol. “We have found the strength that we never knew we were looking for.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a majority of council members were in attendance including Pio Renteria, Delia Garza, Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo. Adler commended the students for what he said was a big achievement.
“You’ve done more in two months than my generation has done in 20 years,” Adler said.
The mayor said no one solution would prevent mass shootings but there are “common sense” solutions that most people could agree upon. Other speakers made similar arguments, including state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
There was also an appearance by a local celebrity.
Matthew McConaughey, an actor and University of Texas alum, took the stage with his 8-year-old daughter and said the march is not about taking away guns from law abiding citizens.
“At the same time, let’s admit we have an epidemic in our country right now that we need to fix,” he said. “Those of us who are legal and responsible gun owners, it’s time to join hands.”
A small group of counter-protesters gathered nearby armed with AR-15 type rifles.
“If guns were the problem then these guns would be causing a problem,” said CJ Grisham, the founder and president of Open Carry Texas, a non-profit that advocates for the legal carry of firearms. “Here’s all these people with firearms and they aren’t hurting anybody, so maybe it’s not these guns that look so scary and evil.”