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Gun control advocates spell "Thoughts and Prayers" with body bags on Capitol Hill

Body bags are assembled on the National Mall by gun control group March For Our Lives on March 24, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The group arranged 1,100 body bags to spell out the words “Thoughts and Prayers." (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Parkland Survivors Spell 'Thoughts and Prayers' With Body Bags on Capitol Hill

"Four years of thoughts and prayers. Four years of broken promises. Four years without ANY federal action on guns."

Julia Conley

Marking four years since the March for Our Lives demonstration—and memorializing more than 170,000 people who have been killed in the United States by gun violence since then—survivors of the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting used more than a thousand body bags Thursday to spell out the words "Thoughts and Prayers" on the ground outside the U.S. Capitol building.

Each of the 1,100 body bags represented more than 150 deaths, according to organizers, who based the numbers on data from the Gun Violence Archive. The phrase "thoughts and prayers" has infuriated gun control advocates in recent years, as the pro-gun lobby and lawmakers across the political spectrum have repeated the words after mass shootings, while doing little to stop gun violence.

"Four years of thoughts and prayers. Four years of broken promises. Four years without ANY federal action on guns," said March for Our Lives, the group formed by survivors of the Parkland shooting, in which 17 people were killed in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The group, along with family members of people killed in other mass shootings, are calling on Democrats to bring to the Senate floor legislation for universal background checks for gun purchasers—which is supported by 89% of Americans.

According to the Washington Post, at least 89,000 K-12 students have been exposed to gun violence at school since the Parkland shooting, and more than 292,000 schoolchildren have experienced gun violence since the 1999 Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

"If they continue to pursue a pathway of inaction, only more people are going to die."

"This is still happening, and we need to step back into this to keep pushing and coercing our president and Congress to do something," Jaclyn Corin, a Parkland survivor and March for Our Lives co-founder, told the Post. "If they continue to pursue a pathway of inaction, only more people are going to die."

The U.S. House passed universal background checks legislation in March 2021. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he "strongly" supports continuing to pursue the broadly popular legislation in the Senate, but has yet to do so.

Right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who since the Democrats took over both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2021 has obstructed his own party's progress on climate action and anti-poverty legislation, said after the House bill passed that he does not support background checks for all gun sales.

In 2013, Manchin worked with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on legislation requiring background checks on all commercial sales, with a carve-out for private sales between individuals who know each other. 

"If you're not willing to protect Americans from endless mass shootings, you don't belong in Congress," said former Labor Secretary Robert Reich last year after Manchin came out against the House-passed bill.

On Thursday, Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in Parkland, noted that March for Our Lives and other gun control advocates and survivors supported the Democrats in 2020 in hopes that the party would deliver gun control action at the federal level.

Lawmakers should not assume they will automatically get the same support, Oliver said.

"Do they think we're going to do the same thing we did a couple of years ago?" he said to the Washington Post. "We're not making that mistake again."

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