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Gun control advocates target Smith & Wesson

  • Chinaly Chanvong of Springfield, one of the teens who took part in the “50 Miles More” march in Massachusetts to protest gun violence, said she got lots of blisters “but it was a great experience.” STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • Teen activists and others in the “50 Miles More” march in Massachusetts to protest gun violence finish the last leg of the walk in Springfield on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • Participants in “50 Miles More” march in Springfield for gun control, Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • Teen activists and others in the “50 Miles More” march in Massachusetts to protest gun violence finish the last leg of the walk in Springfield on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • Activists and supporters with the “50 Miles More” march rally outside gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • David Hogg, center, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, addresses a rally in front of the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, Sunday, in Springfield. AP PHOTO

  • Demonstrators hold placards during a rally in front of the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson following a 50-mile march, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, in Springfield, Mass. The march to call for gun law reforms began Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in Worcester, Mass., and ended Sunday, in Springfield, with a rally near the gun manufacturer. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • Demonstrators carry placards and chant slogans during the final mile of a 50-mile march, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, in Springfield, Mass. The march, held to call for gun law reforms, began Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in Worcester, Mass., and ended Sunday, in Springfield, with a rally near the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • Chloe Carr, 18, of Natick, Mass., front, holds a placard and chants slogans during the final mile of a 50-mile march, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, in Springfield, Mass. The march, held to call for gun law reforms, began Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in Worcester, Mass., and ended Sunday, in Springfield, with a rally near the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • Demonstrators carry American flags and placards during the final mile of a 50-mile march, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, in Springfield, Mass. The march, held to call for gun law reforms, began Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in Worcester, Mass., and ended Sunday, in Springfield, with a rally near the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne



Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — Capping a 50-mile march that began Thursday, high school students and their supporters rallied Sunday near Smith & Wesson, the venerable firearms manufacturer, to call for an end to gun violence and the passage of “common sense” reforms of the nation’s gun laws.

The student activists, holding signs proclaiming “Books Over Bullets” and “When I Grow Up, I Want to be Alive,” began the last leg of their four-day trek, called “50 Miles More,” from Blunt Park and marched along Roosevelt Avenue, ending the walk at a small park across the street from Smith & Wesson.

About 175 people listened at a post-march rally as speakers talked about the group’s goals, including getting Smith & Wesson to contribute $5 million to help research the problem of gun violence in America, given a lack of similar effort by the federal government because of restrictions imposed by Republicans in Congress.

Some at the rally also spoke about their experience seeing friends and family killed or wounded by gunfire, including David Hogg, a survivor of the February high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died and another 17 were wounded.

Hogg, who’s since become a national figure in the student anti-gun movement, said it was imperative that Massachusetts residents vote both in the primaries in early September and November’s midterm elections.

“We’re not here to support Democrats or Republicans,” he said to cheers. “We’re here to support morally just leaders and change.”

Chinaly Chanvong, 17, who lives just a block away from Smith & Wesson, said the 50-mile walk, which began in Worcester, was physically draining but emotionally rewarding, with the student activists — she said the number of marchers varied between about 35 and 50 each day — housed each night in churches and community centers.

Other people along the march also cheered them on and offered food, added Chanvong, who is a co-founder of the Springfield social activist group Teens For Action.

“I got a lot of blisters, but the pain I felt was nothing compared to what’s happened to the victims of gun violence,” she said in a post-rally interview with the Gazette.

A smaller group of counterprotesters, some of whom held signs proclaiming “I (heart) Smith & Wesson” and “Don’t Tread on Me,” stood along Roosevelt Avenue about 300 yards down the road. One man, who declined to give his name, said he was “all for gun safety” but not at the expense of penalizing responsible gun owners.

“Don’t try to take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” he said. “Respect the Second Amendment.”

Echoes of a movement

The “50 Miles More” march was an outgrowth of the larger “March For Our Lives” rallies that took place nationwide in March, as high school students and others in the wake of the Parkland shootings called for new laws and ways to stop national gun violence.

Katie Eder, a recent high school graduate from Wisconsin, started the “50 Miles More” campaign in that state, where activists walked to the home of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this year.

The name of the movement, which Eder and others hope to bring to every state, is meant to recall the famous marches during the civil rights movement from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery, covering about 50 miles.

Outside Smith & Wesson, Eder said the company’s guns have been used in numerous mass shootings in the U.S., including at Parkland. Organizers want Smith & Wesson to cease manufacturing weapons that are outlawed in the state under the 2004 Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban.

“I want everyone to know that young people are not going anywhere — we are not going away,” said Eder, who was one of a number of speakers who said the company has yet to respond to them.

Indeed, added Sarah Reeves, a Longmeadow High School student who led a walkout at her school in spring to protest the Parkland shootings, “If we don’t hear anything from Smith & Wesson, we’ll be back here again.”

Vikiana Petit-Homme, a Boston Latin Academy senior who directed the “March For Our Lives” rally in Boston in March, said it’s important to remember that dissent is patriotic and that better gun laws could be enacted while still protecting the Second Amendment.

Pointing to the two American flags that were unfurled on the small stage she spoke from, Petit-Homme said, “It’s time we reclaimed this flag!” as some in the audience chanted “USA! Not NRA!”

It wasn’t clear if teen marchers from Hampshire County were part of Sunday’s rally; organizers did not have names readily available. But one speaker noted that Jo Comerford, the state Senate candidate from Northampton, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Massie, were in the audience, which prompted another cheer.

Perhaps the most emotional note was sounded by Manuel Oliver. He and his wife, Patricia, lost their son, Joaquin, in the Parkland shooting and have been appearing at rallies and on marches, like the one in Massachusetts, ever since to call for new gun laws.

“During the march, we saw a lot of supporters for what we call the kids,” said Oliver. “I call them heroes.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.