Students March To Demand Firearm Manufacturer Help Fight Gun Violence

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Students are marching across Massachusetts to demand gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson is held accountable for gun violence tied to its weapons.

Students are marching across Massachusetts until they reach gun maker Smith & Wesson starting this Thursday, and they are doing so to demand the manufacturer become involved in fighting gun violence.

The 50-mile march is being organized by the student-led group 50 Miles More, and it will involve about 45 students who will march from Worcester to Springfield, where on Sunday, they hope to reach the headquarters of Smith & Wesson. Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, as well as Manuel Oliver, the father of a Parkland victim, will be joining the students.

At the final set of the march, students will celebrate the life of Oliver’s son, Joaquin Oliver.

In the past, 50 Miles More was also behind the march to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin home. But now, they are facing gun makers themselves.

By basing their tactics on the civil rights march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in 1965, students want to challenge the firearm maker to take part in the effort to bring an end to gun violence by asking the manufacturer to donate $5 million to study gun-related crime and violence involving their own weapons. They also hope to get Smith & Wesson to stop manufacturing weapons used by the military, such as the AR-15-style M&P 15 rifle, which is often the No. 1 choice for mass shooters.

“That 54-mile march was an inspiration for this one,” Boston student Vikiana Petit-Homme, 17, explained. “They fought for their freedoms, so we’re doing the same here.”

She added that while the company produces AR-15-style weapons in Massachusetts, the state’s assault weapons ban restricts the sale of these very rifles.

“We’re allowing a company like Smith & Wesson to ship out weapons that we don’t even want in our own state,” she said. “We thought that was very hypocritical and we thought it was our chance to stand up against that and actually hold Smith & Wesson accountable for their actions.”

Jack Torres, 16, added that the pressure they are putting on the company has nothing to do with demanding they completely stop doing what they do.

“We’re not asking to shut their doors and stop selling guns,” the Boston-area student said. “We’re just asking them to help fund the gun violence research that will help them be a more responsible company in terms of how their guns are used and sold.”

He added that he believes a study funded by the company wouldn’t necessarily be biased.

“It’s just statistics about the way guns are used,” he said. “If those facts go against what you’re trying to say, then that says more about what you’re trying to say than about the facts.”

Smith & Wesson is one of the largest gun manufacturers in the United States, and its military-style weapons sales account for a major portion of the company’s profits. Still, the company is located in a deeply blue state with some of the strongest gun laws in the country. And yet, Massachusetts produces more firearms than any other state.

In neighborhoods where gun violence is still a reality, this connection becomes even more troubling.

That’s the case in Springfield, where student Trevaughn Smith, 18, grew up. He told reporters he remembers the violence as part of daily life.

In 2017, Springfield registered 68 shootings that produced injury or death, but it wasn’t until recently that locals connected the violence to the gun manufacturer.

“Because of these recent atrocities, Smith & Wesson is on everybody’s radar in Springfield,” Smith said. “Residents have really started to realize that Smith & Wesson is a lot closer to us than we originally thought.”

This awareness prompted many students to rally outside the company to demand meeting CEO James Debney, but Smith & Wesson remains silent.

“They’re simply ignoring this, hoping it will go away, but that won’t be the case,” Smith added.

Founder of Stop Handgun Violence John Rosenthal has been active in the anti-gun activist scene since 1994. He said pressuring state lawmakers to act against firearm makers would be interesting.

“I would love to see the state legislature and governor try to enact legislation that basically says you can’t make and distribute weapons in Massachusetts that are illegal in Massachusetts,” he said.

His organization is helping marchers, and he said he thinks the young people involved in the movement to end gun violence today are a lot like the anti-war activists of his youth.

“These kids are doing what we did in the ’60s and ’70s with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement,” he said. “It’s the most encouraging, hopeful thing I’ve seen in 25 years of gun violence prevention activism.”

It’s this feeling of encouragement that is pushing many pro-gun control activists to join these students across the country.

With the enthusiasm and dedication they have put into changing the country’s culture, it will be no surprise if these students become America's future lawmakers, as even Hogg expressed interest in getting into politics.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

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