Thousands of Empty Shoes Displayed at U.S. Capitol Building to Protest Gun Violence

Thousands of small shoes were placed on the ground in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning, one pair for each of the estimated 7,000 children who have died from gun violence since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

Called Monument for Our Kids, the demonstration is part of a far-reaching effort to pressure Congress to pass additional gun control legislation. The shoes, all worn, were donated by thousands of people across the country, organizers said. Prominent celebrities, including Bette Midler and Chelsea Handler, helped publicize the drive via social media.

Avaaz, a global organization that coordinates demonstrations for progressive causes, created the shoe installation on the southeast lawn at about 8 a.m. Some participants who attended lost their own children to gun violence. 

“I’ll travel to D.C. literally wearing my son Daniel’s shoes, the ones he wore the day he died at Columbine,” said Tom Mauser. “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.”

The shoes are set to be donated to various charities after the demonstration ends, also on Tuesday. Organizer Emma Ruby-Sachs said she thinks it’s a pivotal moment for the movement to end gun violence. Her daughter is taking part in an active shooter drill at school on Wednesday, a necessity that she described as a “terrifying reality.” 

“The culture on guns is shifting, and we can all feel it,“ she said. “Students are walking out of their schools, survivors are marching in the streets and parents are here on the Capitol to honor the children we’ve lost and make a clear demand: Not one more gun death.” 

The event mirrors a similar display the group put on following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris ahead of the Global Climate Summit. A sea of empty shoes also filled the grounds outside the Department of Health in 2016 to represent the millions of uninsured people who die each year from treatable conditions. The symbolic shoe demonstrations likely draw inspiration from the renowned memorial at the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest that honors lives lost during the Holocaust. 

Tuesday’s memorial comes just one day before thousands of students are expected to walk out of their classrooms to protest gun violence in an event dubbed the #Enough National School Walkout. Participating students will leave their desks empty for 17 minutes to represent the 17 people who were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

And, on March 24, there will be another large demonstration against gun violence. Called March for our Lives, the event is a collaboration between the student survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Everytown for Gun Safety. 

According to the Department of Health, teens and young people under 24 are more likely than any other age group to be murdered with a gun. There has been, on average, at least one school shooting a week in the United States since 2013.