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    Billboard pushes for gun control in Florida — from the Back Bay

    Boston, MA--11/01/2018-- A woman walks past a new billboard designed by Manuel Oliver, the father of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, who was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School that was unveiled today by Stop Handgun Violence and Change the Ref. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: 02billboard Reporter:
    Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
    A woman walked past a new billboard designed by Manuel Oliver, the father of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, who was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School that was unveiled Thursday by Stop Handgun Violence and Change the Ref.

    Two gun control advocacy groups have unveiled a 90-by-20-foot billboard to bring attention to Florida’s gun laws — in Massachusetts.

    The sign, at the corner of Boylston and Dalton streets in the Back Bay, includes an image of Joaquin Oliver, one of 17 people killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, with the words, “If I had attended high school in Massachusetts instead of Parkland Florida, I would likely be alive today.”

    It was created by Manuel Oliver, the victim’s father, who decided to design the sign after meeting John Rosenthal, cofounder of the Beverly-based group Stop Handgun Violence, at the “50 Miles More” march from Worcester to Springfield in August.

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    “They did not know that Massachusetts has the most effective gun laws and the lowest gun-related death rates,” Rosenthal said. “It dawned on Manny that if the same gun laws were in effect in Florida, his son would likely be alive today.”

    Rosenthal said the space at Hynes Auditorium Garage, 50 Dalton St., was offered for free.

    Rosenthal, who has erected many billboards promoting gun control measures, said putting up the Oliver billboard in Massachusetts is significant because Smith & Wesson, the company that manufactures the semi-automatic rifle used in the Parkland shooting, is based in Springfield.

    “Smith & Wesson can’t even sell most of their guns in Massachusetts. . . . You know what is even more hypocritical? James Debney, the CEO, and his children live in the safest state in the nation because of our gun laws, and he distributes weapons of mass destruction that are killing people across the country,” Rosenthal said. “His killing machines.”

    Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
    Patricia and Manuel Oliver listened to a speaker during a press conference after Stop Handgun Violence and Change the Ref unveiled the new billboard. Reporter:

    Leah Prieto, an executive assistant at American Outdoor Brands Corp., which owns Smith & Wesson, said in an e-mail that she was not able to provide information in response to requests for comment from the company. Prieto did not respond to attempts by the Globe to contact her for clarification Thursday.

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    Oliver has also created “The Last Lockdown,” a sculpture of a child cowering under a school desk during a school lockown.

    It is being shown at various times in 10 congressional districts around the country.

    “It’s part of the solution,” Oliver said of his billboard. “Being able to send that message to people in Florida, and to other states that could do the same things that [Massachusetts] is doing, it’s just my pleasure.”

    The Olivers founded the gun advocacy nonprofit Change the Ref — or referee — in honor of their son.

    The billboard was unveiled Thursday in a ceremony attended by Senator Edward Markey, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, among other officials and gun control advocates.

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    The Olivers are no strangers to Boston.

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    ‘We always loved this city. . . . Now Joaquin is here, sharing his message.’

    “We always loved this city,” the father said. “Me and Joaquin visited this city several times. We went to see the Red Sox, and we love Big Papi. Now Joaquin is here, sharing his message. I think that is great.”

    Cynthia Fernandez can be reached at cynthia.fernandez@globe.com.