'Protect our children, not guns,' read signs held up by protesters
NASHVILLE: Hundreds of people rallied at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville to demand stricter gun regulations on Thursday, in the wake of the latest US school shooting that left six people dead in the city this week.
School shootings are strikingly common in the United States, as call in the aftermath for action on gun control, a hot-button political issue in the country.
The crowd of demonstrators swarmed up the steep steps of the capitol building — its flag at half-mast for the victims of the shooting — in central Nashville.
"Protect our children, not guns," read signs held up by protesters who also flooded the marble rotunda, according to images published by local media.
The crowd sang "power to the people" and chanted slogans demanding immediate action on gun control.
The protest was peaceful, with some parents bringing their children — but some demonstrators shouted and jostled around lawmakers as Tennessee Highway Patrol members cleared paths for them to enter the House chamber, The Tennessean reported.
Members of the public in the chamber gallery and some Democratic lawmakers called for gun control to be discussed in the session, according to the report.
"We’re here because we still believe that we can make a change. We can. It’s a tough state, I get it," said organizer Maryam Abolfazli, cited by local station WKRN.
Republican-led Tennessee has in recent years loosened gun laws. In 2021, Governor Bill Lee championed a law passed that year allowing anyone aged 21 and up to carry a firearm, both openly and concealed, without a permit.
The United States, a country of around 330 million people, is awash with some 400 million guns.
Gun control efforts have tackled access to assault rifles, two of which were carried by the heavily armed shooter who broke into the private Christian Covenant School on Monday, killing three staff and three young children before being gunned down by police.
Nashville police chief John Drake said on Tuesday the suspect legally purchased the weapons.
More than 24 million AR-15-style assault weapons were circulating in the United States by mid-2022, according to the NSSF firearm trade association.
President Joe Biden again urged Congress to reinstate the national assault rifle ban, which existed from 1994 to 2004, after the Nashville attack.
Efforts to ban assault rifles have run up against opposition from Republicans, staunch defenders of the constitutional right to bear arms.
The political deadlock endures despite an uproar over recurring school massacres, including last year when a shooter in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 students and two teachers.
On Thursday at the Tennessee capitol, demonstrators targeted the powerful weapons in their protests.
"Is your AR-15 worth their lives?" one sign read.