SPRINGFIELD — Standing outside the Smith & Wesson headquarters Sunday afternoon, students from across Massachusetts called on the major gun manufacturer to stop producing and exporting firearms that are not legal to use in the state.
The youth-led rally was the finale of a 50-mile march from Worcester to Springfield that kicked off Thursday morning.
David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting earlier this year, and the parents of one of the 17 Parkland victims, joined the students on the walk. They spoke at Sunday’s rally just before news broke of a mass shooting in a Jacksonville, Fla. mall that left at least three dead.
Dozens of adults, including some Democratic political candidates, participated in the rally, totaling more than 150 people.
On the final leg of the march, as they neared the Smith & Wesson headquarters, the protesters crowded the sidewalk, chanting “USA over NRA” and “Peace is possible.” One sign stated, “When I said I’d rather die than go to math class I was EXAGGERATING.”
“It feels incredibly empowering, because Massachusetts is a great example of why common-sense gun laws work,” Hogg said in an interview Sunday morning before the march began.
The walkers were met near the Smith & Wesson building by dozens of counterprotesters holding American flags and pro-Smith & Wesson signs gathered on the opposite side of the street. Some held signs that said, “Lawful gun owners are NOT the problem.” A Donald Trump flag, several “Make America Great Again” hats, and a life-size cutout of the president were visible.
The opposing groups chanted at each other as the marchers passed by, but police kept them separated.
The students issued a letter to executives at Smith & Wesson urging them to stop producing guns outlawed under the state’s 2004 assault weapons ban, and to donate $5 million toward gun violence research.
“If they don’t work with these demands, we have to use the two things that they fear most against them: economics and love,” Hogg said. “They sell more guns through fear and anger, and that’s not what we’re here to perpetrate.”
Open Carry Boston, one of the organizers of the counterprotest, said in a statement that the demands of the 50 Miles More group were “troubling, especially in historic Massachusetts, where the Patriots first took up arms against the tyrannical British.”
Smith & Wesson officials could not immediately be reached for comment, and the march leaders said they had not heard back from the gun manufacturer.
“This is not going to be a 50-mile march and we’re done,” said Vikiana Petit-Homme, a rising senior at Boston Latin Academy and the executive director of March for Our Lives Boston. “No matter how long 50 miles is, we’re prepared to fight this till the end.”
Students said the long walk was tough but worth it.
“My feet hurt like hell,” Hogg said.
Stephen Lafume, a rising senior at Boston Day and Evening Academy who is from Mattapan, joked that he could barely feel his ankles anymore.
But, he said, “This isn’t as tough as having your son get murdered, or your best friend. I know what I went through was nothing.”
The rally, he said, was empowering — and “really dope.”
Hogg said he had no objections to the counterprotest and he does not oppose the Second Amendment, but rather he supports “common-sense gun laws that protect the right to bear arms, but also protect the right to live.”
Melinda Nielsen, a Hadley resident who took part in the counterprotest, said “common sense” is a subjective term.
“I believe the first human right is the right to life, and the second human right is the right to defend that right,” she said. “What I see as common sense is [that] there already are laws against killing people and people still kill people.”
Petit-Homme said she smiled the widest as she walked past the opposing protesters.
“We’re doing amazing things, and they might try to stop us, but we’re on the right side of this and it feels amazing,” she said.
Manuel and Patricia Oliver, the parents of Joaquin Oliver, a Parkland victim, were at Smith & Wesson for the second time this year. In April, they painted a mural near the headquarters to raise awareness of gun violence.
Speaking to the crowd outside Smith & Wesson, Manuel Oliver conjured the image of the gun used in Parkland being put together in that facility.
“You are part of the problem,” he said. “That weapon that you’re helping develop murdered my son and another 16 persons.”J.D. Capelouto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto.