Massive crowds rally across US to urge tighter gun control laws

WASHINGTON/PARKLAND, Fla., March 24 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Americans gathered across the country on Saturday at March For Our Lives rallies to demand tighter gun laws, led by survivors of last month's Florida school massacre which reignited public anger over mass shootings.

Students from the Parkland, Florida, high school where 17 people were killed on Feb. 14 were set to speak at the biggest event, in Washington, where organizers said as many as 500,000 people were expected to demonstrate near the Capitol and call on Congress to fight gun violence.

The protests aim to break a legislative gridlock that has long stymied efforts to increase restrictions on firearms sales in a nation where mass shootings at schools and colleges have become a frighteningly frequent occurrence.

"I don't want any child to be seen as another statistic," said Ashley Schlaeger, an 18-year-old freshman at Ohio State University who drove to the Washington rally with friends.

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Hundreds of thousands attend March for Our Lives in Washington DC
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Hundreds of thousands attend March for Our Lives in Washington DC
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Students from Centreville, Virginia wear targets on their chests as they arrive for the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents are expected to gather for the anti-gun violence rally, spurred largely by the shooting that took place on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Students from Centreville, Virginia wear targets on their chests as they arrive for the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents are expected to gather for the anti-gun violence rally, spurred largely by the shooting that took place on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
A student from Baltimore, Maryland, holds a protest sign during the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A student from Baltimore, Maryland, holds a protest sign during the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants hold up signs as students and gun control advocates hold the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
A woman wears a protest shirt as people arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A demonstrator arrives before students and gun control advocates hold the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters gather for the March for Our Lives rally along Pennsylvania Avenue March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers and parents gathered in Washington for the anti-gun violence rally organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead and 17 others wounded. More than 800 related events are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters arrive for the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents are expected to gather for the anti-gun violence rally, spurred largely by the shooting that took place on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters arrive for the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents are expected to gather for the anti-gun violence rally, spurred largely by the shooting that took place on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters arrive for the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents are expected to gather for the anti-gun violence rally, spurred largely by the shooting that took place on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters hold signs as they wait for the beginning of the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters Daisy Hernandez of Virginia (R) and Hunter Nguyen of Maryland (L) hold their hands up as they wait for the beginning of the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. Galvanized by a massacre at a Florida high school, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to take to the streets in cities across the United States on Saturday in the biggest protest for gun control in a generation. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters gather for the March for Our Lives rally along Pennsylvania Avenue March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers and parents gathered in Washington for the anti-gun violence rally organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead and 17 others wounded. More than 800 related events are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Protesters gather for the March for Our Lives rally along Pennsylvania Avenue March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers and parents gathered in Washington for the anti-gun violence rally organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead and 17 others wounded. More than 800 related events are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Alex Edelman (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a sign as people arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Angela Sitaras, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, holds a sign referring to the 17 students killed in the February 14 mass shooting at her high school as she rallies with thousands of other students and young people at the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Protesters raise signs during a "March For Our Lives" demonstration demanding gun control in New York City, U.S. March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Michael J. Weissman, 18, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, where a mass shooting occurred last February 14 that left 17 dead, carries a sign as he and other participants hold the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Participants hold up signs as students and gun control advocates hold the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Participants carry signs and show slogans on their hands as students and gun control advocates hold the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein TEMPLATE OUT.
Isabel White, an 8th grader who will go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida next year, displays a banner as students and gun control advocates hold the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: The stage for the March for Our Lives rally is seen along Pennsylvania Ave NW as workers build the stage ahead of the March for Our Lives rally on Friday, March 23, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The US Capitol building is seen as people arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
The US Capitol building is seen as people arrive early for the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, DC on March 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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In the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland, thousands of people passed through police checkpoints to assemble in a park for a rally and march. Many held signs with slogans including "Am I Next?" "A Call To Arms For the Safety of Our Sons and Daughters" and "Congress = Killers."

Adam Buchwald, who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told the crowd he and his friends would stay focused on getting new legislation passed.

"Sadly, this could be repeated in your city or town. This stops now!" he said to loud cheers.

At a rally in New York, a moment of silence was held for the Parkland victims. The accused gunman, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, faces the death penalty if convicted.

RALLIES WORLDWIDE

More than 800 demonstrations were set to take place in U.S. cities from Los Angeles to New York and in countries around the world, according to coordinators.

In Sydney, Australia, rally organizer Jennifer Smith told a crowd of about 300 people, many of them Americans, that she could "breathe easy" about sending her children to school in Australia with its tough gun laws.

"I never have to worry about them having to do active shooter drills," she said.

Organizers of the U.S. marches retweeted photos from sister demonstrations as far afield as Northern Ireland, Mauritius, and Stockholm.

Organizers want the U.S. Congress, many of whose members are up for re-election this year, to ban the sale of assault weapons like the one used in the Florida rampage and to tighten background checks for gun buyers. On the other side of the debate, gun rights advocates cite constitutional guarantees of the right to bear arms.

The teenage U.S. organizers have won kudos and cash from dozens of celebrities, with singer Ariana Grande and "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda among those performing in Washington.

"Trainwreck" star Amy Schumer is set to appear at the Los Angeles rally. Actor George Clooney and his human rights attorney wife, Amal, have donated $500,000 and said they would be at the Washington rally.

On Friday, Republican President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that includes modest improvements to background checks for gun sales and grants to help schools prevent gun violence.

Democrats and nonpartisan groups hope to register at least 25,000 first-time voters at the rallies, potentially a boost for Democrats, who generally favor stricter gun controls.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said the administration applauded "the many courageous young Americans" exercising their free-speech rights on Saturday.

"Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the president's," said Walters, noting that on Friday the Justice Department proposed rule changes that would effectively ban "bump stock" devices that let semi-automatic weapons fire like a machine gun.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Zachary Fagenson; Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington and Jim Oliphant in West Palm Beach; Editing by Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)

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