On Tuesday in Washington D.C., gun control activists placed thousands of shoes on the U.S. Capitol's lawn — 7,000 pairs to be exact, roughly one for every child who's been killed by a gun since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The protest was organized by the group Avaaz, which announced the plan weeks ago, and the photos of the shoes on the Capitol lawn illustrate the shocking numbers behind child gun deaths in the U.S..
The installment, officially called the "Monument For Our Kids," was unveiled almost exactly one month after a gunman killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That shooting motivated several surviving students at the school to organize the March For Our Lives, a pro-gun control rally that's set to take place on March 24th.
Avaaz said in a press release that its goal was to "bring the heartbreak of gun violence to Congress’ doorstep." The shoes on display Tuesday were collected by the group over a two-week period, ABC News reports. A handful of them came from parents whose children were killed by gun violence, and several of those parents were in attendance when the installment was unveiled.
"I’ll be traveling to D.C. literally wearing my son Daniel’s shoes, the ones he wore the day he died at Columbine," said Tom Mauser, whose son was killed in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, according to a statement from Avaaz. "I think this kind of event with shoes offers a very powerful metaphor both for how we miss the victims who once filled those shoes and also for how we see ourselves wanting to walk in their place, seeking change, so that others don’t have to walk this painful journey.”
A study published Monday in Pediatrics found that an average of 1,297 kids in the U.S. are killed every year by firearms, which makes guns the third most common cause of of death for America's children. An additional 5,790 children are treated for non-fatal gunshot wounds every year, that same study found. On a statewide basis, the rates of child gun homicides were highest in Louisiana, Wyoming and Alaska — all red states with relatively lenient gun laws.
"We are bringing Congress face to face with the heartbreak of gun violence," Oscar Soria, a senior campaigner for Avaaz, told ABC News. "All of these shoes cover more than 10,000 square feet." Soria added that about five families who were victims of gun violence attended the display on Tuesday. Avaaz said that some of the shoes were donated by celebrities, including Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon, Alyssa Milano, and Chelsea Handler.
Seventeen students were murdered in the Parkland shooting, making it the deadliest school shooting since 26 kids were killed at Sandy Hook. Several states passed stronger gun laws after Sandy Hook, and the Parkland shooting reinvigorated the debate over gun control.
On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that raises the minimum age for buying guns, imposes a three-day waiting period for gun purchases, bans bump stocks and makes it easier for law enforcement to confiscate guns from those with a history of mental health struggles. However, the bill was controversial among gun control activists, as it also includes a provision that allows certain school employees to be armed on campus.
But although several states passed new gun control laws in the years since Sandy Hook, federal lawmakers have not. A 2013 bill that would have imposed modest gun control reforms was killed by a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
The organizers of March For Our Lives are demanding that lawmakers pass laws to ban the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and close loopholes in the national background check system.
"We support the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, as set forth in the United States Constitution," a petition reads on the organization's website. "But with that right comes responsibility. We call on all the adults in Congress elected to represent us, to pass legislation that will protect and save children from gun violence."
In February, Avaaz erected three mobile billboards in Tampa criticizing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for refusing to support comprehensive gun control laws.