Phil Ruffin, dressed in black and carrying a homemade sign, headed to the Sarasota Bayfront on Thursday, angry about the nation's gun laws and looking for a way to make a difference. Like he had nearly 50 years ago at a Vietnam War protest in Massachusetts, Ruffin demonstrated for a cause he believed in. Like he saw after the years of public outcry it took to help end the war, it would take many actions to make a change.
"This is all well and good," Ruffin said at this latest protest, "but unless somebody decides to take it to the streets, get this thing done, chain themselves to the White House fence, or whatever needs to be done, it won't be done."
Still, Ruffin said Thursday's demonstration was a good place to start.
More than 200 people lined Bayfront Drive for the rally, many also dressed in black, lifting up homemade signs and demanding action on gun control. The Sarasota rally was the latest demonstration among hundreds in Florida and across the nation in the wake of the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School that killed 17 people.
Sarasota and Manatee county police have responded to multiple reported and rumored threats to area schools in the days following the shooting. Though none of these threats have proven credible, several students have been arrested.
Earlier this week, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight called for an increase in armed, retired veterans and law enforcement personnel to protect school campuses. He also asked legislators to change the law barring concealed carry permits on school grounds.
Area gun control groups had demonstrated along the Bayfront in support of stricter gun laws every Thursday afternoon for more than five years in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Organizers said this Thursday's demonstration was far and away the biggest.
"Absolutely, this is different," said Nancy Goethe, a member of the area Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence chapter. "We've been banging this drum for years now. Recent events brought it to this point."
The Brady Campaign helped coordinate and promote the event along with other gun control groups including the League of Women Voters, the Unitarian Church and local chapters of Indivisible. Many of the demonstrators were unaffiliated and felt compelled to show their support for gun restrictions.
Several people held signs demanding a ban on assault weapons. Others demanded legislative actions from their elected officials. A few people held up signs that simply said "vote."
Many others sought to memorialize the victims of the latest mass shooting.
A large contingent of the demonstrators dressed in black to honor the 14 students and three faculty members who lost their lives at the Douglas High School shooting. A group of 17 displayed a name on a poster, one for each victim.
Demonstrators vocally lauded the surviving students, who as teenagers had captured the national attention on gun control unlike any mass shooting in recent memory. Norma Goldberg, one of the demonstrators, said students were already more mature than many of politicians representing them.
"If these kids can't make an impression on our legislators, our legislators are children," Goldberg said.