WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - In the wake of several recent mass shootings, thousands of people gathered Saturday in front of the Capitol for a silent march urging Congress to act on legislation to control guns. Despite chilly temperatures and snow-covered ground, supporters came from around the country came to make their statement.
Deborah Hill, a proofreader from Landover, Md., said she came straight from at 8 a.m. "because of the deep sadness over the many, many lives lost from gun violence." She said she was hoping to honor a 23-year-old neighbor who was killed in October.
"You don't come out here on a day like this for nothing," Hill said.
More than 1,000 white posters with the names of victims of gun violence were passed out to participants, but many also brought their own. "Gun Control Now" and "Stop NRA" were some of the most popular, but homemade signs were also in abundance.
Members of the Women's Initiated Peace Movement carried pink cardboard guns that said "Gun control now" and hearts that read "Arms are for hugging."
The march was organized by Molly Smith, the artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage, and her partner Suzanne Blue Star Boy. Smith said they were horrified after hearing news of last month's shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead. Although she had never organized a march before, Smith compared the event to the women's movement activities she had participated in during the 1970s.
Around 100 residents of Newtown also were in attendance.
"It just popped out of me, it's everybody's issue," she said. Despite only a month to organize the event, Smith and her committee were able to raise about $46,000 and secure some big name supporters.
"It's going to take the will of the American people," actress Kathleen Turner said. "I think it's very possible, very reasonable. I think it's common sense."
"People feel so strongly about this; they want to put their feet into their feelings," Smith said.
Mari Bailey, a high school teacher from Phoenix, said she traveled to Washington to honor her son who was shot and killed eight years ago. Bailey has been working for stronger controls on weapons since then and views the tragedy at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School as something that could actually lead to real change.
Not everyone agreed with the marchers. Chris Hekimin, an engineer from Germantown, Md., and member of the National Rifle Association, stood with a group across the street displaying signs protesting new gun laws.
"I'm here to defend our constitutional rights," Hekimin said. "Without armed citizens, this country wouldn't exist."
Marchers walked through the city in a line that stretched roughly two blocks to the base of the Washington Monument, where they were greeted by a chorus singing America the Beautiful.
Once the crowd arrived at the monument, speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and for universal background checks on gun sales.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the crowd it's not about taking away gun rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, but about gun safety and saving lives. He said he and President Obama would do everything they could to enact gun control policies.
"This is about trying to create a climate in which our children can grow up free of fear," Duncan said. "This march is a starting point; it is not an ending point. ... We must act, we must act, we must act."
Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting representative in Congress, agreed.
"This time we the people are stepping up," she said. "And this time we will not step back."