WASHINGTON - Thousands of people, many holding signs with names of gun violence victims and messages such as "Ban Assault Weapons Now," joined a rally for gun control on Saturday, marching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
Leading the crowd were marchers with "We Are Sandy Hook" signs, paying tribute to victims of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials marched alongside them. The crowd stretched for at least two blocks along Constitution Avenue.
Participants held signs reading "Gun Control Now," ''Stop NRA" and "What Would Jesus Pack?" among other messages. Other signs were simple and white, with the names of victims of gun violence.
About 100 residents from Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six teachers, traveled to Washington together, organizers said.
Participant Kara Baekey from nearby Norwalk, Conn., said that when she heard about the Newtown shooting, she immediately thought of her two young children. She said she decided she must take action, and that's why she traveled to Washington for the march.
"I wanted to make sure this never happens at my kids' school or any other school," Baekey said. "It just can't happen again."
Once the crowd arrived at the monument, speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition and for universal background checks on gun sales.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the crowd it's not about taking away Second Amendment gun rights, but about gun safety and saving lives. He said he and President Barack 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."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting representative in Congress, said the gun lobby can be stopped, and the crowd chanted back, "Yes, we can."
"We are all culpable if we do nothing now," Norton said
James Agenbroad, 78, of Garrett Park, Md., carried a handwritten sign on cardboard that read "Repeal the 2nd Amendment." He called it the only way to stop mass killings because he thinks the Supreme Court will strike down any other restrictions on guns.
"You can repeal it," he said. "We repealed prohibition."