Standing outside gates that bore the same name as the gun used to kill their son, Patricia and Manuel Oliver delivered an emotional coda to a four-day march for gun control reform in Massachusetts, demanding outside the Smith & Wesson headquarters in Springfield that the gun-maker stop building weapons as powerful as the one used earlier this year to kill 17 people at a Florida high school, including their 17-year-old son, Joaquin.
“In those headquarters,” Manuel Oliver said, pointing at the gated compound behind him, “there’s a lot of mothers working there. And I’m thinking some of the mothers had contact with the weapon that killed my child.”
“It’s not allowed in here,” Oliver went on, referring to legislation that makes owning a rifle like the one used in the Florida shooting illegal in Massachusetts, “but it’s allowed in Florida. Those mothers can go home and wash their hands, and maybe not feel so bad. But that weapon murdered my son, and another 16 persons.”
The rally outside Smith & Wesson Sunday afternoon was the culmination of a student-led, 50-mile march that began in Worcester on Thursday. Several dozen counterprotesters lined the street leading to the gun manufacturer, bearing “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and signs professing their allegiance to Smith & Wesson, among the country’s largest and most storied gun-makers.
Representatives for the company could not be reached Sunday.
The Massachusetts march followed the lead of students in Wisconsin, who in March walked from Madison to Janesville, the hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan, to urge the nine-term, NRA-endorsed Republican to consider gun control reforms.
Katie Eder, a Milwaukee 18-year-old who organized the Wisconsin march, traveled to Massachusetts and joined the trek from Worcester to Springfield.
“We’re 100 miles closer to change,” she said.
Her Massachusetts peers demanded Smith & Wesson quit making high-powered weapons that are illegal to possess in the state.
“If they’re not good enough for our state,” asked Felix Brody, 16, one of the organizers of the march, “why should we let Smith & Wesson ship them to other states?”
The families of two victims of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have sued Smith & Wesson’s parent company, American Outdoor Brands, seeking to hold the gun-maker accountable for “the entirely foreseeable, deadly use of the assault-style weapons that they place on the market.”
The man suspected of carrying out the rampage, Nikolas Cruz, legally purchased an AR-15 style Smith & Wesson rifle about a year before the shooting. A similar lawsuit was filed by parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School students who were killed in 2012 by a man armed with a Remington assault-style rifle.
Brody, a high school junior, said their message has been misunderstood by counterprotesters who at times trailed them along their 50-mile route in motorcycles and cars.
“We support the Second Amendment; we support the right to defend yourself,” he said. “What we don’t support are assault weapons — at that point, it’s not about defending yourself. You’re hunting humans.”
Another organizer of the march, Jack Torres, joked that he thought the pro-gun counterprotesters — separated from the student-led rally by a chain of volunteers who locked hands — were cheering them on.
“Isn’t ‘Don’t tread on me’ about state’s rights?” Torres, 16, said. “I thought they were supporting our state laws that ban assault weapons.”
Some of the counterprotesters tried to engage the students but were rebuffed by the cordon of volunteers. “Wisdom comes with age, and with them, there’s no dialogue,” said Carlos Flores, a gunsmith from Middlefield, Mass., who collects machine guns and sells ammunition at gun shows. “We’d love to talk with them. Not shout, not yell, not scream — just talk.”
Flores said flatly that gun buyers should not be subjected to background checks, even when buying assault-style weapons. “Our gun rights are exactly that — rights,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to demonstrate anything to anyone in order to exercise my constitutional rights.”
David Hogg, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, drew an outsized share of the counterprotesters’ ire Sunday. Hogg, a frequent face at marches and on cable news as an advocate for gun law reform and school safety, spoke briefly at the Springfield rally.
“When we use the two things this company behind us fears most — economics and love — we can’t lose,” he said.
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