WORCESTER — Dozens of young gun-control advocates from around the state, joined by a survivor of this year’s Florida school shooting, kicked off a 50-mile march Thursday to demand stricter gun-control laws and show that their generation is united behind the issue.
The group plans to end the march Sunday at the headquarters of firearms maker Smith & Wesson. Activists criticized the company for its role in producing and selling weapons used in many mass shootings.
David Hogg, who vaulted into the national spotlight after surviving the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack in Parkland, Fla., in February, is taking part in the march. He was joined by Manuel Oliver, a parent of one of the Parkland shooting victims, US Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, and young gun-reform leaders from Massachusetts.
“The fact that we’re still having this conversation means that we’re being successful,” Hogg said. Since the shooting at his school on Feb. 14, more than 50 gun laws have been passed across 25 states, he said.
Gun reform leader & Parkland survivor David Hogg is here and will march with the students pic.twitter.com/amJgAYYcb2— J.D. Capelouto (@jdcapelouto) August 23, 2018
“This is not about just my school. This is not about just mass shootings,” he said, adding that everyday gun violence also needs to be addressed. He acknowledged that the Massachusetts march was organized primarily by the local students.
The “50 Miles More” movement was inspired by young people in Wisconsin who marched 50 miles to US House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hometown in March, motivated by the response from Parkland’s students. Organizers hope to expand the movement across the country, and Massachusetts was the first state after Wisconsin to take part.
The students taking part in the Massachusetts march, who ranged in age from 13 to 19, are calling on Smith & Wesson to stop manufacturing and distributing all weapons outlawed under the 2004 Massachusetts assault weapons ban, and to donate $5 million to research violence caused by their weapons.
Oliver is marching to Smith & Wesson wearing the shoes of his son Joaquin, one of the 17 Parkland victims.
“This is just like my son was,” he said, referring to the protesters. “My son would be right there, absolutely. And in a way he is, through us.”
The students pointed out that while assault weapons are outlawed in Massachusetts, Smith & Wesson can still produce and ship them out of state.
“They were able to manufacture the weapon that killed my son,” Oliver said.
Smith & Wesson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the march got underway, it was unmistakably youthful, as the students chatted, laughed, and danced between chants like “Enough is enough” and “Parkland, my friend, you will not walk alone.” Some participants held signs, including one that read “Remember in November.’’
Students singing-- "Parkland, my friend, you will not walk alone." pic.twitter.com/QWhyoc2tl2— J.D. Capelouto (@jdcapelouto) August 23, 2018
The activists said they are constantly told they are too young to fully comprehend such complex topics. But Jack Torres, an organizer and rising junior at Somerville High School, shrugged off that assertion.
“It doesn’t really affect us, because we know that people are listening,” he said. “We do our research, and we know where our beliefs are.”
One of the student organizers, Vikiana Petit-Homme, said social media helped her generation embrace gun-reform issues.
“People tend to silence us and tell us we don’t know anything,” she said. “We know a lot and we’ve got a lot to say, and we’re going to make sure that it’s heard.”
Petit-Homme, a rising senior at Boston Latin Academy, said she is curious to dive deeper into the role of race in gun violence and in the movement for stricter gun laws. She hopes to explore, for example, why black men are more than 10 times more likely to die by a gun than white men.
Along the walk, Hogg — wearing gym shorts, a backwards cap, and a “50 Miles More” shirt — talked with the Massachusetts students about how to best argue their platform in advance of the November midterms.
Petit-Homme predicted, “Come Nov. 6, there will be an extreme shake-up.”
She said the group hasn’t heard back from Smith & Wesson about their demands, but “trust me, things are going to get done.”
The group planned to walk 20 miles on Thursday, finishing up the march with a rally in Springfield on Sunday. They encouraged others to join them on the final mile to Smith & Wesson.
“We’re realizing that our future is going to look really, really scary,” said Katie Eder, a recent high school graduate from Wisconsin who led the first 50-mile march, “if we don’t step up and make a change.’
"I feel extremely proud... I'm just further convinced that change will happen." -Vikiana Petit-Homme, one of the local organizers (right) pic.twitter.com/BusRG6QUWZ— J.D. Capelouto (@jdcapelouto) August 23, 2018
J.D. Capelouto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto.