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Thousands marched to demand stricter gun laws

Pro & Con Gun Control Supporters March in DC

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Thousands of demonstrators rallied Saturday in Washington to demand tougher gun control laws, many describing themselves as first-time capital marchers who’ve had enough of gun violence.

On a cold day, a vanguard led a blocks-long procession with a big blue banner, declaring “March on Washington for Gun Control: When we stand together, we stand a chance.”

The demonstrators want reinstatement of the federal ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic rifles such as the one used in the recent Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, plus the gunman and his mother. The protestors also want a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks.

Many marchers just carried black-and-white placards bearing the names of victims of gun violence, such as Veronica Soto, a Newtown teacher who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.

Co-organizer Molly Smith highlighted how many demonstrators were ordinary citizens, the organization of whom was assisted by a webpage and Facebook page.

“It’s a been remarkable learning experience,” Smith told CNN, “the realization that we’re citizens and this is an active citizenship, and being a citizen isn’t just sitting around and gassing about it.”

The march was the first major demonstration since the Newtown mass shooting last month, and it comes two days after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, introduced a bill that would ban some assault rifles, semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

One marcher, Lori Bennett, said she wants to make a difference.

“My two older children, of course, are very aware of what’s going on and I said, ‘I’m going down there, you know, for you, for us, and to make a difference,” she said. “Without sounding corny, but I mean, it’s just piggybacking on the sentiment of the politicians that are in favor of all this change.

“People as a country, like, we can’t keep waiting for all the politicians to make a move,” she added.

A small counterdemonstration was held across the street from the gun control advocates’ staging area near the Capitol. One gun rights advocate said he thinks people in schools should be armed — a viewpoint he developed after the Newtown shooting.

“I could not figure out why government employees have armed guards, banks have armed guards to protect the money, but the government, for some reason, thought we don’t need armed guards to protect our children,” Dick Heller said. “Maybe they’re less worthy. I don’t know. I don’t know what their thinking was. All I can’t understand is why didn’t they protect their children like the government protects itself?”

CNN’s Emily Schmidt contributed from Washington. Michael Martinez wrote and reported this account from Los Angeles. CNN’s Laura Koran also contributed.

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