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Antiviolence sign flap draws donors despite controversy

A rendering shows the design of the billboards.
A rendering shows the design of the billboards.John Rosenthal/Stop Handgun Violence

Donors have poured more than $25,000 into an advertising campaign against gun violence, an organizer said Monday, four days after Clear Channel Outdoor yanked its donated billboard space amid a backlash from firearms-rights advocates.

John Rosenthal, cofounder of Stop Handgun Violence, which organized the campaign, said he believed the attention generated by the controversy will help his group spread its message further.

“I couldn’t have scripted this better,” Rosenthal said. “With the money flowing in, we’ve got a lot of options.”

Clear Channel owns 25 billboards that had been part of the statewide antiviolence campaign. On Thursday, just two days after the billboards went up, the company removed the signs, which read, “We’re not anti-gun. We’re pro-life. Massachusetts Gun Laws Save Lives,” and featured a Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle with a white flag in the barrel.

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Another company, Outfront Media, also rescinded a donated billboard.

Rosenthal said he’s hoping to use the donated cash — he pegged it at $25,700 — to revive the campaign, and said it could move beyond roadside advertising.

He would not identify the six donors, out of fear they would be “intimidated” by gun supporters, but said they are from Massachusetts.

Clear Channel, which did not respond to requests for comment Monday, has said it did not intend to make a political statement when it donated billboard space.

Officials said last week they initially saw the antiviolence message as a public service opportunity.

The company reversed course after a social media push by the Gun Owners’ Action League, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, which urged members to contact Clear Channel Outdoor and other supporters with demands to remove the billboards.

Rosenthal said he wasn’t sure if he would buy advertising space with Clear Channel Outdoor, which said last week it would put the signs back up if Rosenthal’s group paid.

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Outfront Media also said it offered to sell space to Rosenthal’s group, but he said the offer was declined.

On Monday, he said the firm Total Outdoor was running two digital billboards in Peabody, and he expects Logan Communications to place a vinyl billboard up in Boston this week.

None of those companies responded to requests for comment Monday.

The billboard campaign came as Stop Handgun Violence faces a deadline this month to remove its 252-foot-long iconic billboard from the side of a parking garage next to the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Rosenthal, who once owned the garage, sold it to Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of the Red Sox, in 2013. John Henry, principal owner of Fenway Sports Group, also owns The Boston Globe.

Representatives from the Gun Owners’ Action League did not return multiple requests for comment Monday about Rosenthal’s push to get the ads back out to the public, but the organization last Friday e-mailed members to thank them for their efforts against the campaign.

“Stop Handgun Violence, with a long track history of sponsoring signs featuring outright lies, statistical manipulation, and provocative imagery designed to elicit an emotional response, was recently forced to find a new home for their false messaging,” the e-mail said.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.