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Nestor Ramos

From the Mass. ‘gun belt,’ young protesters bring a message of gun control to Boston

Jamison Rohan is a sophomore at Minnechaug Regional High School.Matt Walting

WILBRAHAM — If there was any doubt that the movement behind Saturday’s March For Our Lives would be real and lasting, spend a little time in Massachusetts’ “gun belt.”

Because even in a swath of conservative communities in surrounding Springfield, the march is on.

In Wilbraham, where voters chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, Jamison Rohan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Minnechaug Regional High School, is helping to lead the way.

Before the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., “I’d been so desensitized to all this,” said Rohan. And who can’t relate to that? Between the drumbeat of shootings on the local news, punctuated by the occasional cacophony of another massacre, it’s not just difficult to stay outraged — it’s unhealthy.


But after Parkland, Rohan realized something inside her had changed.

“I generally feel safe,” Rohan said. “But I have started thinking about what I would do if a school shooter came in the building. These thoughts shouldn’t be going through my mind.”

So she organized a rally in town a week after shooting, and worked with a friend to plan a ceremony at Minnechaug on the day of the national school walkout.

“I’m also a bit of a goody-two-shoes and constantly thinking about college,” she said, so she worked with the principal to plan the walkout.

Then, in the weeks before Saturday’s march, she raised nearly $1,000 through an online fund-raiser to charter a bus to Boston.

“Something had to be done in our own community,” Rohan said.

In liberal Massachusetts, a state with some of America’s toughest gun laws and the lowest gun death rate in the country, standing up for gun reform can feel a little like tilting at windmills that have already been bulldozed. It’s not pointless — not at all. It’s just that around here, the overwhelming majority of us already get the point.


But far beyond Beacon Hill, in places like Wilbraham, conversations about gun control aren’t quite so one-sided.

Thanks to some amalgam of low rates of gun ownership and suicide, relatively low crime and, yes, strong gun laws, Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun deaths in the country. Searching for news of the last shooting in Wilbraham, the closest I could find was a 2015 incident in which a man allegedly shot his ex-wife’s unoccupied parked car. Not good, obviously. But also not something that would seem to have wide community-shaking implications (the man was quickly arrested).

But show support for the state’s assault weapons ban, or call for universal background checks, and you risk finding yourself at odds with classmates, friends, or even parents.

“It takes that much more resolve for a young person to put themselves out there politically and physically,” said Karen Grycel, a member of the Wilbraham Democratic Committee.

Grycel got to know Rohan when Rohan visited the Democratic committee as part of her high school’s model congress program.

“She reminds me of that adage, ‘be the change you want to see in the world,’ ” Grycel said. “I think she’s doing that.”

Hannah Ross, a 16-year-old sophomore at Minnechaug who worked with Rohan to plan the walkout event, said she has drawn inspiration from the Parkland survivors — teens about her age who were thrust onto the national stage and, remarkably, outshined the spotlight.


“I think that a lot of older people around where I live have these conservative thoughts, but high school is a time when you start to formulate your own political beliefs,” Ross said. “Going against what your parents, or your family or your friends believe, that’s definitely hard. But sometimes you have to do what you think is right.”

She’s planning to make the journey into Boston for the March on Saturday, too, and looking forward to being one in a sea of people, all pushing in the same direction.

For Ross, Rohan, and countless other young people from the more conservative corners of our region for whom the march will be their first real foray into political engagement and activism, that might feel a little different.

On Boston Common, in the shadow of Beacon Hill, people have already seen the light when it comes to simple, straightforward gun control measures. But when the march here is over, these new standard-bearers will carry that light back to the cities and towns where they live.

Maybe that’s where the world will start to change.

Nestor Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.