'We mean this.' Protesting gun violence, 'March for Our Lives' fills Tacoma streets

Renee Lloyd stood on the porch of her Tacoma home and clapped as more than 1,000 people marched down South 9th Street holding signs and chanting, "Guns in schools have got to go."

"I love this," she said. "I love that we are doing this here and if we are doing this in every major city, hopefully it helps out."

There were 838 "March for Our Lives" gun violence protests scheduled nationwide Saturday morning. Tacoma's march started and finished at People's Park and covered about 1.3 miles.

Courtney Stoker and Kassandra Withrow were impressed with the size of the turnout. "The organization ability of these kids is phenomenal to see," Withrow said. "It's not easy to do."

Stoker and Withrow want to see "sensible gun legislation." Withrow said that last year a friend of theirs bought a gun and later that day used it to kill herself.

"My hope is that lawmakers will put our lives before guns and the NRA," Stoker said. "It seems ridiculous that we feel like we need to protest and say things like 'Protect kids, not guns.'"

Other than occasional comments from passersby, there did not appear to be a guns rights presence at the march.

C.J. Mercado watched the march pass his South 9th Street home and felt conflicted by what he saw.

Mercado said he "basically grew up with a gun in his hand," loves hunting and has taught his children how to safely use guns.

"I support their right to stand up for their believes," Mercado said of the marchers, "but at the same time the whole gun control thin is a gray area to me. I feel like we need to teach (children) about guns."

He turned to his young son and asked, "Where do you point your gun?" The boy replied, "Up or down." "And never at a person," Mercado added.

"I think it is more the video games that people play these days," Mercado said. "'Grand Theft Auto' and all these killing and shooting games where they kill mass people online and laugh about it. They (children) are totally desensitized."

Saturday morning's march, was the second nationwide gun violence protest in less than two weeks. Students staged a school walkout March 14. The protests are a response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

When the march arrived back at People's Park, several students spoke to the crowd. Mei Yun Loya, a 17-year-old Stadium High senior, urged marchers to vote for legislators who support stricter gun laws. She said she has already registered and will be of legal voting age by November's mid-term elections.

The rally concluded with chants of "Vote them out."

"I want people to know that we mean this," Loya said after the rally. "This is not just one march."

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497, @AdventureGuys