Massachusetts Students Plan To Walk Out of School, Advocate for Gun Control at Smith & Wesson

Printed from:

By Colin A. Young

BOSTON — Following the lead of student activists who have carried the flag for gun control since the deadly school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, high schoolers across Massachusetts plan to join the chorus of voices calling for tougher gun laws Wednesday at events in Boston and Springfield.

Coinciding with a “national school walkout” organized by an arm of the group that led the January 2017 women’s marches, high school students plan to leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Some students plan to then call for action at the State House, while high schoolers from some of Massachusetts’s largest cities plan to use the day to call attention to the gun violence issues that affect their urban school communities.

Students from Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Holyoke are expected to rally for an hour outside the Springfield headquarters of Smith & Wesson to demand a meeting with the gun manufacturer’s chief executive to discuss how the manufacturer can “help reduce gun violence.” The students also want to make sure that the gun violence issues they say are unique to their communities are part of the debate around gun laws.

“Students are working hard to center what young people in cities across Massachusetts would like to see and what they want looks different from what the students in Parkland may want,” Tara Parrish, the director of the Pioneer Valley Project who is organizing Wednesday’s rally, said. “It’s a different angle when you talk about cities and cities without a lot of resources.”

Parrish used Springfield as an example; she said schools there might be the safest place a student visits that day. She and other organizers said some Springfield schools already use metal detectors and that there is no desire in communities like Springfield for teachers to be armed.

“Any real solutions to address gun violence must include acknowledgement of the unique characteristics and needs of urban communities. There’s a widespread call for gun control reforms that again and again focus on the needs of suburban communities, while making those of us in cities invisible,” Reverend David Lewis Sr. from Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Springfield, said in a statement. “Students in Springfield and in many urban communities across the country don’t agree with current calls for metal detectors and arming teachers. Here, schools are among the safest places in Springfield for young people, a city with three of the poorest zip codes in Massachusetts and nine of the state’s poorest schools.”

Parrish said the students hope to secure a meeting with Smith & Wesson CEO P. James Debney to ask what role gun manufacturers see themselves playing in improving safety nationwide.

“We want to talk to Smith & Wesson about how they are prepared to be a part of the solution, which includes shouldering the costs that our communities are bearing — both the human costs and the financial costs — of what their product does,” she said.

Smith & Wesson did not respond to an inquiry from the News Service on Tuesday morning.

While some high school students rally in Springfield on Wednesday, others plan to take part in a school walkout before heading to the State House to meet with lawmakers on Beacon Hill.

Charlotte Lowell, a senior at Andover High School who is organizing the walkouts and State House rally, said more than 50 schools have reached out to get more information about Wednesday’s plan.

“At 10 a.m., in union with the national walkout, students will walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes in solidarity with the 17 lives lost in Parkland and then will make their way either by walking, driving or taking public transport to the State House,” she said.

After a brief rally on the State House steps at 12:15 p.m., the students plan a 1 p.m. speaking program in Gardner Auditorium before visiting with state legislators until 3:30 p.m. She said the students will meet with lawmakers to talk about bills (H 3081, H 3610) filed by Representatives David Linsky and Marjorie Decker, which would each establish “extreme risk protective orders” through which courts could prohibit a person from owning a gun for one year in certain circumstances, including threats of violence.

Lowell said the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in south Florida forced high school students to think more seriously about gun violence and to add their voices to the national debate over gun laws and school safety.

“Before the Parkland shooting it was not at the forefront of many people’s minds — administrators or students. We definitely were pretty uninformed and even a little bit indifferent about gun violence because most of us had never experienced it before,” she said. “But following the Parkland shooting, I think a lot of students in my school, in Massachusetts and in the country, are suddenly very engaged and involved because finally we have said this is enough and we don’t want to feel unsafe in our schools.”

Lowell said Tuesday’s snowstorm made estimating how many students will attend difficult, but said the event will go ahead as planned Wednesday even if some towns cancel school again Wednesday.