WASHINGTON (AP) - Thousands of people, many holding signs with the 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.
Participants were led by Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and other officials, and the crowd stretched for about two blocks along Constitution Avenue. Police blocked off half the road.
Participants held signs reading "Gun Control Now" and "Stop NRA," referring to the National Rifle Association, an influential gun rights lobbying groups, among other messages. Other signs were simple and white, with the names of victims of gun violence.
About 100 residents were expected from Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. The rally was organized in response to that shooting.
Once the crowd arrived at the monument, speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the crowd it's not about taking away constitutional rights to keep and bear arms, but about gun safety and saving lives. He said he and President Barack Obama would do everything they could to enact gun control policies.
"We must act, we must act, we must act," said Duncan.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.'s non-voting representative in Congress, said the gun lobby can be stopped. The crowd chanted back, "Yes, we can."
Norton said the nation didn't act after previous mass killings, but she said "we the people," won't give up this time.
"We are all culpable if we do nothing now," Norton said
Actress Kathleen Turner was also expected to appear, along with Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund and Colin Goddard, a survivor from the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 dead, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Kara Baekey of Norwalk, Connecticut, said that when she heard about the Newtown shooting, she immediately thought of her two young children. Baekey decided she must take action, and that's why she joined 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."
Molly Smith, the artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage, and her partner organized the march.
While she's never organized a political march before, Smith said she was compelled to press for a change in the law. The march organizers support Obama's call for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as well as for universal background checks for gun sales. They also want lawmakers to require gun safety training for all buyers of firearms.
"With the drum roll, the consistency of the mass murders and the shock of it, it is always something that is moving and devastating to me. And then, it's as if I move on," Smith said. "And in this moment, I can't move on. I can't move on.
"I think it's because it was children, babies," she said. "I was horrified by it."
After the Connecticut shootings, Smith posted something on Facebook and drew more support to do something. The group One Million Moms for Gun Control, the Washington National Cathedral and two other churches eventually signed on to co-sponsor the march. Organizers raised more than $46,000 online to pay for equipment and fees to stage the rally.
Smith said she supports a comprehensive look at mental health and violence in video games and films. But she said the mass killings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, all start with guns.
"The issue is guns. The Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns, but it's not the right to own any gun," she said. "These are assault weapons, made for killing people."