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2 More Arrested In Fatal Shooting Of North Carolina Mayor And His Wife

Authorities in North Carolina have made two more arrests in the slaying of a small town mayor and his wife.

Mitchell Brinson and Dakeithia Nesha Andrews are suspected of involvement in the deaths of Leggett Mayor Gary Eugene Skelton Sr. and his wife, Jackie Dawn Skelton, according to the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office.

Brinson, 18, of Tarboro, was taken into custody on Friday and is being held on a first-degree murder charge. Andrews, 31, of Rocky Mount, was arrested on Saturday. She is facing a charge of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, authorities said.

Deputies made the first arrest in the case on Thursday, when they charged Tarboro resident Keith Earl Williams, 25, of first-degree murder. According to WBBM-TV, Williams was released from prison on Aug. 28 after being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and felony possession of a firearm by a felon in April 2017.

According to Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson, Gary and Jackie Skelton were found shot to death in their home on North Carolina Highway 33 on Thursday. They were last seen alive on Wednesday, police said.

The couple’s bodies were discovered after someone requested a welfare check on them. Gary Skelton, 70, was a retired banker in his second term as mayor of Leggett, which has a population of 55, according to The Charlotte Observer. Jackie Skelton, 66, was a nurse at Vidant Oncology. They are survived by three adult sons and several grandchildren.

Mitchell Brinson, 18, has been arrested in relation to the double homicide of Leggett Mayor Gary Skelton and his wife, Jackie


Edgecombe County Sheriffs Office

Mitchell Brinson, 18, has been arrested in relation to the double homicide of Leggett Mayor Gary Skelton and his wife, Jackie Skelton.

“They would have given them the shirt off their back,” Teresa Summerlin, a town commissioner, told Raleigh’s WNCN News. “For this to happen in this small a community. The work that man has done for this community. People just don’t realize he has invested so many man hours.”

Authorities have not commented on a suspected motive for the slayings.

“The investigation is still active and ongoing,” the sheriff’s office said in a Saturday press release. “We continue to ask for assistance from the public.”

The press release also suggests that authorities do not expect to make additional arrests: “Sheriff Atkinson wants to assure the citizens that the investigation has revealed this to be an isolated incident and that there is no further danger to the public.”

Keith Williams, 25, has been arrested and is facing first-degree murder charges.


Edgecombe County Sheriffs Office

Keith Williams, 25, has been arrested and is facing first-degree murder charges.

The slayings have some people in the community on edge.

“I mean you read about it all the time … so it just makes you rethink and makes you feel like you need to carry a weapon with you at all times,” area resident Joe Edmundson told WWAY-TV.

All three suspects are being held at the Edgecombe County Detention Center.

The Skeltons were found dead on Thursday, police said.


Englewood Baptist Church

The Skeltons were found dead on Thursday, police said.

The sheriff’s office is asking anyone with information in the case to contact them at 252-641-7911.

Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Parkland Survivor Testifies Against Kavanaugh

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Family Who Survived Vegas Attack Says Their Comfort Dog Has Been Shot, Killed

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state family that survived the mass shooting last year at a Las Vegas concert says a neighbor shot and killed the dog they got to deal with stress and anxiety from the attack.

The neighbor was cited by police for recklessly firing a gun and declined to comment.

Meet Jax. He became a comfort dog to Joseph and Lona Johnson after they survived last October's mass shooting at a country mu


Joseph Johnson via AP

Meet Jax. He became a comfort dog to Joseph and Lona Johnson after they survived last October’s mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas. He was shot and killed on Sunday.

The Bellingham Herald reported that Lona and Joseph Johnson were at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in October when a gunman shot and killed 58 people and injured hundreds of others.

Among the wounded was their cousin, Melinda Brockie, who attended the festival with them.

The couple heard that dogs are good pets to help heal from post-traumatic stress, Joseph Johnson said, and they picked out a Labradoodle named Jax.

The comfort dog was for themselves and their two children, who weren’t at the concert but saw the news coverage and knew their parents had been shot at.

“He was such a blessing,” Joseph Johnson said of Jax. ”He gave us something to look forward to. I really believe Jax was a big part of our healing.”

Joseph Johnson, right, and his wife Lona, left, of Whatcom County in Washington, pose with their late dog, Jax. “He was


Lona Johnson via AP

Joseph Johnson, right, and his wife Lona, left, of Whatcom County in Washington, pose with their late dog, Jax. “He was such a blessing,” Joseph said. 

Early Sunday, they heard gunshots. They say a neighbor in their rural northwest Washington community shot and killed Jax.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said it cited the neighbor, 49-year-old Odin Maxwell, for recklessly discharging a firearm.

The sheriff’s office reported that Maxwell said the dog had been chasing his chickens. Investigators turned up no evidence that any chickens had been hurt.

Maxwell, a workers compensation lawyer in Bellingham, declined to comment to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The Johnsons said they had not had any previous dealings with Maxwell, and Joseph Johnson said a nephew even returned one of Maxwell’s chickens unharmed after it came onto their property only days before the dog was shot.

He said the couple is considering suing Maxwell. They also plan to host a 5K run for people with their dogs to raise awareness about animal cruelty.

“We’re pretty upset and hurt right now,” Lona Johnson said. “It triggered a lot of PTSD for our family. We’re still trying to deal with what happened in Las Vegas, and then this happened. Everybody who knows us knows how important Jax was to us.”

Brett Kavanaugh Snubs Father Of Parkland Shooting Victim

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s latest nominee to the Supreme Court, on Tuesday declined to shake hands with Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter died in a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year.

A fiery confirmation hearing took place for Kavanaugh on Tuesday, marked by periodic interruptions from protestors. Democratic lawmakers called for the hearing to be delayed, pointing out that senators had received 42,000 pages of documents from the judge’s time working with President George W. Bush just hours before.

White House counsel Don McGahn, second from right, watches as Guttenberg attempts to shake hands with Kavanaugh.


Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

White House counsel Don McGahn, second from right, watches as Guttenberg attempts to shake hands with Kavanaugh.

Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime was 14 when she was killed by a gunman who opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, and more than a dozen others were injured. Since Jaime’s death, Guttenberg has been a vocal proponent of gun control.

As Tuesday’s morning session ended, Guttenberg said he approached Kavanaugh for a handshake.

“Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg’s dad,” he wrote on Twitter. “He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.”  

Kavanaugh’s critics say his confirmation to the Supreme Court could lead to a shift against responsible gun control laws.

Photos and video of the incident show Kavanaugh looking at Guttenberg, who has his hand outstretched. Kavanaugh then turns his back on him.

Guttenberg speaks as Kavanaugh moves away from him after rebuffing Guttenberg's attempt at a handshake.


Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Guttenberg speaks as Kavanaugh moves away from him after rebuffing Guttenberg’s attempt at a handshake.

In a tweet, White House press secretary Raj Shah described the encounter thusly: “As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him. Before the Judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened.”

But Guttenberg, in his own tweet response, said that was “incorrect.”

“I was here all day and introduced by Senator [Dianne] Feinstein,” Guttenberg wrote. “No security involved. He turned and walked away.”

Levi Strauss CEO Sets Up Fund To Help Groups Working to Lessen U.S. Gun Violence

Levi Strauss & Co. is taking a much higher profile in efforts to reduce gun violence in the U.S., committing itself to donating more than $1 million to groups pursuing that goal.

Company president and CEO Chip Bergh, in a letter published in Fortune on Tuesday, detailed why the denim-jean manufacturing behemoth would start partnering with gun safety advocates. He cited a 2016 letter he wrote requesting gun owners not bring weapons into his stores after a customer in Georgia shot himself while trying on a pair of jeans.

“In the days after I published that letter, I received threats to our stores, our business, and even on my life. It was unsettling,” Bergh said. But referring to the mass shooting at a Florida high school in February and 2012 slaughter at a Connecticut elementary school, added that “these personal attacks pale in comparison to the threats that activists and survivors from Parkland, Sandy Hook, and daily incidents of gun violence face every time they speak up on this issue.”

Bergh in his letter announced the company’s establishment of the Safer Tomorrow Fund, which intends to funnel grants totaling more than $1 million over the next four years to nonprofits working to end gun violence in the country. Bergh said the company also would double all donations made by its employees to the Safer Tomorrow Fund.

And Strauss & Co. will be working with Everytown for Gun Safety, which former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg set up in 2014 to, according to its mission statement, help build “a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.”

“You may wonder why a company that doesn’t manufacture or sell guns is wading into this issue, but for us, it’s simple,” Bergh wrote. “Americans shouldn’t have to live in fear of gun violence. It’s an issue that affects all of us—all generations and all walks of life.”

Addressing those likely to react negatively to the company’s moves, he said: “I know that Americans, including many of our own consumers, employees, and other partners, hold a wide spectrum of views related to guns. I’m not here to suggest we repeal the Second Amendment or to suggest that gun owners aren’t responsible. In fact, as a former U.S. Army officer, I took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. But as retired four-star general Michael Hayden once said, ‘There are some weapons out there that frankly nobody should have access to. And actually, there are some people out there who should never have access to any weapons.’”

Coming 2 Days Before Primary, Jacksonville Shooting Certain To Change… Nothing

With Florida’s primary election coming barely two days after a mass shooting at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, how much will that tragedy affect the race for governor?

How about zero.

All five of the Democratic candidates vocally oppose the National Rifle Association and support measures such as a ban on assault weapons. The GOP’s two leading candidates, state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, are taking the standard Republican position of supporting the NRA and opposing new gun restrictions.

“Both of those guys are pro-gun. They’re not going to change at this point,” said longtime Florida pollster Brad Coker. “There’s not much difference between the Dems, either.”

Two men competing in a video football tournament were shot to death Sunday afternoon by a fellow player, who then killed himself. Eleven others were wounded at the downtown Jacksonville Landing tourist destination.

The death toll is significantly lower than the 17 who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, early this year and the 49 who were murdered at the Pulse night club in Orlando in 2016.

“Unfortunately, the half-life on these incidents is getting shorter as time goes by,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who led former President Barack Obama’s two wins in the state and who is now an adviser to former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham’s gubernatorial campaign.

What’s more, Florida frequently has shooting incidents with multiple victims. Just two days earlier and six miles away, one person was killed and two injured at a high school football game. The previous Friday, two were shot at a high school football game in Palm Beach County.

One political consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Jacksonville incident, in a high-profile tourist area where most of the tournament attendees were relatively well-off, is getting far more attention than most shootings in the state, in which the victims are black or Latino, such as the one two days earlier.

Schale agreed that the Jacksonville shooting would not affect either gubernatorial primary much, but said he did think the issue would help Democrats in the November general election. He pointed to the decision of both Putnam and DeSantis to cancel planned events in Jacksonville ― a major population center for both Republican and Democratic primary voters ― while several of the Democratic candidates, including Graham, kept their scheduled visits to the city. “The purpose of the visit obviously changed,” he said.

Schale recalled a time not long ago when Democratic candidates for statewide office in Florida would avoid speaking about guns entirely. “I do think the tone around gun safety has changed dramatically. The state is a different place than it was years ago,” he said. “Both Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis are out of the mainstream compared to where most Americans are on guns today.”

Putnam declared himself a “proud NRA sellout” when he began his campaign last year. DeSantis has said he would have vetoed the law that imposed some modest restrictions on firearms immediately after the Parkland school massacre ― a law that was pushed for and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is now running for U.S. Senate.

Neither of the GOP candidates’ campaigns responded to HuffPost’s queries on the matter. The Florida lobbyist for the NRA, Marion Hammer, hung up on a reporter. Subsequent calls to her number produced only silence on her end of the line, as someone would pick up the phone but then not speak or respond to greetings.

Coker, the pollster, said he doubted this latest shooting would alter public sentiment much at all. He said his polling over the years has found that guns are as polarizing as abortion, with few “persuadable” voters open to changing their minds or even willing to listen.

“If it’s there, it’s a sliver,” he said, referring to any potential shift in opinion. “It’s not going to have a major effect even on the general election.”

Gun Safety Group Taps Veterans To Help Bridge Divides In Gun Debate

Retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden has confronted more than his fair share of threats throughout a 39-year career in the U.S. Air Force and tenures atop the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. 

In a video released Monday by gun violence prevention group Giffords, Hayden cites a sobering statistic to underscore the urgency of his latest mission to protect.

“We’ve had more Americans killed in high schools in this country in the last year than have been killed in Afghanistan,” Hayden says.

He could have gone further. So far this year, the number of people killed in school shootings is more than double that of all U.S. military personnel who have died in combat zones around the world, according to a recent tally.

Hayden partnered with Giffords for “There Is No Other Side,” a new veteran-focused campaign meant to bridge longstanding political and cultural divides in the gun debate. In the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections, Giffords will be actively recruiting and organizing veterans in a number of states to lend their voices to conversations around firearms in the United States. The push will feature paid and earned media ― including a series of videos featuring high-ranking generals such as Hayden ― as well as veteran press conferences, meetings with legislators and others days of action.

Guns remain a deeply contentious issue in the U.S., and the inability to establish common ground has led to hyper polarization and a status quo of political inaction. These splits often fall along broader partisan or regional lines, but organizers at Giffords say there’s a particularly divisive narrative at the core of the gun debate that they hope veterans can combat.

“If you asked someone to summarize the gun debate, they’ll say there’s one side that wants to take away all of the guns and the other side that doesn’t want to do anything,” said Stasha Rhodes, manager of engagement at Giffords.

Supporting the Second Amendment right to gun ownership and wanting to take steps to ensure that firearms don’t fall into the wrong hands are not mutually exclusive positions, Rhodes said. Lots of people understand that, including many who’d likely consider themselves to be pro-gun. But portrayals of the gun violence prevention movement as dominated by anti-gun liberals who know nothing about firearms haven’t always made it easy to reach across that gap, she added.

With the help of veterans, Giffords is hopeful they’ll have more success engaging non-traditional gun safety allies.

“Veterans have a unique ability to reach out to gun owners, conservatives, NRA and former NRA members that actually do support … common sense steps to end gun violence,” said Rhodes. “They’re highlighting the importance of taking the partisan air that inflates this debate out of the conversation.”

Ultimately, the campaign’s message is pretty straightforward. “When it comes to saving lives from gun violence, there is no other side,” reads the tagline. Giffords hasn’t attached specific policy objectives to the campaign, but veterans working with the organization could help lobby for state-level legislative initiatives.

Giffords has previously made a point of amplifying veteran voices in their gun violence prevention efforts. The group, founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, a Navy combat veteran and former NASA astronaut, has assembled a veterans coalition of more than 20 generals and admirals committed to reducing shootings in the U.S. Members include Gen. Wesley Clark, Adm. Thad Allen, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus.

Although high-profile mass shootings in schools and public places appear to be of particular concern to Hayden, gun violence also affects veterans in specific ways. Around 20 U.S. veterans die by suicide each day on average, and two-thirds of those deaths involve firearms, according to federal data. They’re among the more than 35,000 people in America who die in firearm-related deaths every year.

The failure to take meaningful steps to reduce this death toll has clearly left generals “frustrated” and wanting to contribute, said Kelly.

“On this issue, we know what works and we know what doesn’t,” Kelly said. “Most of us realize that more guns in more places is not going to make us safer, it’s actually just going to result in more people getting shot and more people getting killed.”

Like Kelly and Giffords, many of the veterans getting involved with the campaign are gun owners themselves, sympathetic to people who choose to own a firearm for protection.

“Nobody here, not me, not Gen. Hayden, not any of these other veterans, are trying to prevent somebody from protecting their family in their home ― that’s a right,” said Kelly.

But Kelly said many generals feel that as a country, we’ve “lost our way” on the issue of gun policy.

“We make it very easy for felons, domestic abusers, even suspected terrorists to buy firearms. The dangerously mentally ill can get access to firearms,” said Kelly. “It doesn’t need to be that way.”

These Are The Victims Of The Jacksonville Shooting

Eli “Trueboy” Clayton and Taylor “SpotMePlzzz” Robertson were killed after a gunman attacked an esports tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday, according to local media reports.

Law enforcement officials have not yet confirmed the victims’ identities, though family members and friends have spoken out about their deaths.

Competitors were participating in the southern qualifier of EA Sports’ “Madden 19” championship series, a video game football tournament, at the Jacksonville Landing shopping mall when a gunman opened fire, killing Clayton and Robertson, and injuring nine others. The suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Two others were injured fleeing the scene. 

Clayton, 22, was a frequent competitor at Madden events and was described by EA Sports as “consistently one of the best.” Clayton was entering the second round of the tournament when shots began to fire. 

Shay Kivlen, the 2018 Madden Bowl Champion, posted a tribute to Clayton on Twitter, describing him as “one of my best friends in life.” 

“You were one of the most kind and genuine people I’ve ever met,” Kivlen wrote. “I love u like a brother. I’m gonna miss hearing you laugh everyday and seeing your genuine smile.”

Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia, was a former champion, having won the Madden 17 Classic tournament in 2016. EA Sports described Robertson, who won 72 percent his matches, as the “toughest opponents in competitive Madden.” 

He began playing Madden when he was 10 years old, but only began playing competitively in recent years. He was excited to fly to Jacksonville, tweeting days earlier that it was “time to chase that second belt.” 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Hayley Miller contributed reporting.

Texas Man Accused Of Shooting Female Drivers Out Of Hatred For Women

A Texas man is behind bars on suspicion of shooting at female drivers repeatedly over the past several months in Katy, a town west of Houston, local media has reported

Harris County prosecutors believe the man, 29-year-old Nicholas D’Agostino, was acting out of hatred for women and female drivers, citing several hate-filled social media posts.

“He rants and rambles about female motorists and how incompetent they are, and how their sole purpose in life is to give birth to male children,” a Harris County prosecutor said in court late Thursday, local news outlet KHOU 11 reported

The man faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon relating to a March incident. Just days before his arrest, he was released on $75,000 bail for a separate incident that occurred in July. Both involved female drivers. 

On March 7, D’Agostino allegedly shot a woman who was turning out of a gas station onto a feeder road. The unnamed woman said she only heard a loud noise and felt a pain in her arm; it wasn’t until later that she realized she had been shot. 

D’Agostino told local affiliate ABC 13 that his response was “self-defense,” alleging that the woman was swerving toward him, and did not apologize.

A July 10 incident was more serious. Another unnamed woman was driving to a car wash when D’Agostino allegedly shot her. The bullet from his .45-caliber handgun reportedly coming within millimeters of her heart.   

When he was arrested for that incident on July 20, authorities say he confessed to five other instances of road-rage shooting, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The March victim came forward after seeing reports of the arrest.

D’Agostino’s bail is now set at $250,000.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday.

Students March On Smith & Wesson To Demand Accountability On Gun Violence

Beginning Thursday, a group of students will march westward a quarter of the way across Massachusetts in the latest act of a national, youth-led campaign to save lives and change the conversation about gun violence.

Roughly 45 students are expected to make the 50-mile trek under the banner of “50 Miles More,” an organization that coordinated a similar march to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s house in Wisconsin earlier this year to demand congressional action on gun reform.

The Massachusetts event will begin in Worcester and end Sunday in Springfield outside the headquarters of Smith & Wesson, where the students say they’ll challenge the firearms manufacturer to do its part to prevent mass shootings and other routine gun violence.

The organizers say they were inspired by civil rights activists who marched from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in 1965 to pressure lawmakers to enact new national voting rights legislation.

“That 54-mile march was an inspiration for this one,” said organizer Vikiana Petit-Homme, a 17-year-old high school student from the Boston area. “They fought for their freedoms, so we’re doing the same here.”

These kids are doing what we did in the ’60s and ’70s with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.
John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence

The activists have two main goals. The first is to get Smith & Wesson to agree to stop manufacturing military-style weapons like the M&P 15, an AR-15-style rifle that has been used in a number of recent high-profile shootings, including in Parkland, Florida, in February, in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, and in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.

The second is for Smith & Wesson to donate $5 million to study gun violence and other crimes involving the company’s firearms.

Considering the M&P 15 is already restricted in Massachusetts under the state’s assault weapons ban, the first objective seems like a no-brainer, said Petit-Homme.

“We’re allowing a company like Smith & Wesson to ship out weapons that we don’t even want in our own state,” she told HuffPost. “We thought that was very hypocritical and we thought it was our chance to stand up against that and actually hold Smith & Wesson accountable for their actions.”

Students activists with 50 Miles More met with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday. From left to right, Amelia Ryan, Tr


50 Miles More

Students activists with 50 Miles More met with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday. From left to right, Amelia Ryan, Trevaughn Smith, Chinaly Chanvong, Sen. Warren, Vikiana Petit-Homme, Jack Torres and Felix Brody.

Smith & Wesson manufactured more than 2 million firearms in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, making it the largest U.S. gun manufacturer. The company now produces hundreds of thousands of semi-automatic military-style rifles each year, products that account for a sizable portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars it makes in profit annually.

The organizers of Thursday’s march say Smith & Wesson highlights the awkward place Massachusetts occupies in the ongoing debate about guns in America. The deep-blue state has some of the country’s strongest gun laws, including strict licensing and consumer protection standards that gun control advocates say have helped drive down firearm fatality rates to the lowest in the nation.

But Massachusetts also manufactures more firearms than any other U.S. state, in many ways a remnant of a gun-making legacy that stretches back to the Revolutionary War. 

We’re allowing a company like Smith & Wesson to ship out weapons that we don’t even want in our own state. We thought that was very hypocritical.
Vikiana Petit-Homme, student activist, 50 Miles More

Although gun violence may be less an issue in Massachusetts than in other states, it’s not uncommon in Springfield, where 18-year-old Trevaughn Smith grew up. Smith said he spent years living in a rough neighborhood and recalled occasional shootings there. In 2017, there were 68 shootings that ended in injury or death in Springfield, the police department told HuffPost earlier this year.

But until recently, many residents of Springfield didn’t make the connection between Smith & Wesson and the bloodshed at home or in other places around the U.S., Smith said. 

“Because of these recent atrocities, Smith & Wesson is on everybody’s radar in Springfield,” he said. “Residents have really started to realize that Smith & Wesson is a lot closer to us than we originally thought.”

That backlash has mounted in recent months. Student activists have held other rallies outside Smith & Wesson and demanded a meeting with the company’s CEO, James Debney.

Smith & Wesson has responded with total silence. A spokeswoman for American Outdoor Brands Corporation, Smith & Wesson’s holding company, did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment this week.

“They’re simply ignoring this, hoping it will go away, but that won’t be the case,” said Smith.

Students, educators and faith leaders hold a rally in front of Smith & Wesson world headquarters in Springfield, Massachu


Faith Ninivaggi / Reuters

Students, educators and faith leaders hold a rally in front of Smith & Wesson world headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 14, 2018.

March organizers say it’s time for Smith & Wesson to step up and help find ways to reduce gun violence that won’t infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights.

“We’re not asking to shut their doors and stop selling guns,” said Jack Torres, a 16-year-old from the Boston area. “We’re just asking them to help fund the gun violence research that will help them be a more responsible company in terms of how their guns are used and sold.”

Torres said he understands that the idea of gun violence research has become intensely politicized in the current debate. But he disagrees that this sort of data is inherently biased.

“It’s just statistics about the way guns are used,” he said. “If those facts go against what you’re trying to say, then that says more about what you’re trying to say than about the facts.”

The youth activists will be joined by David Hogg, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who survived the February 14 massacre there. Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin died in that shooting, will also be in attendance.

Organizers say they plan to host nightly listening sessions to discuss the effects of gun violence. They’ll also be dedicating certain stretches of the march to shooting victims, with the final leg set to be completed in memory of Joaquin Oliver. There may not be huge numbers of people completing the entire march, but organizers expect more people to join them in Springfield on Sunday.

So far, the students say the response has been largely positive, aside from a few “vicious” comments on news stories and social media. Those have become par for the course in their campaign for gun reform, they said.

Smith & Wesson is on everybody’s radar in Springfield … They’re simply ignoring this, hoping it will go away, but that won’t be the case.
Trevaughn Smith, student activist, 50 Miles More

Although the organizers expressed optimism that their continued pressure would eventually lead to voluntary engagement from Smith & Wesson, other say it could take more forceful action to effect the sort of change they say is necessary.

“I would love to see the state legislature and governor try to enact legislation that basically says you can’t make and distribute weapons in Massachusetts that are illegal in Massachusetts,” said John Rosenthal, founder of the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Stop Handgun Violence, which is offering resources and logistical support for the march.

Rosenthal has been heavily involved in the gun reform movement since 1994, and he acknowledged that there’s been very little buy-in from firearms manufacturers on gun violence issues over that time period. The National Rifle Association and other gun lobby forces have effectively blacklisted companies ― including Smith & Wesson ― when their executives have shown a willingness to pursue safety initiatives like “smart gun” technology, which is meant to prevent anyone but a firearm’s owner from shooting the weapon.

But with a new generation of youth leadership at the helm, Rosenthal said the winds may finally be starting to shift.

“These kids are doing what we did in the ’60s and ’70s with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement,” he said. “It’s the most encouraging, hopeful thing I’ve seen in 25 years of gun violence prevention activism.”

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