On Friday, March 15, youth organizers from the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign came together with nearly 100 young people and adults from across Massachusetts to call for solutions to the issue of gun violence. This is at least the fifth time since March 2018 that youth and adults have gathered in Springfield at the global headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson. With hand-written signs, speeches, and a hand-delivered letter, youth leaders from the Pioneer Valley Project and the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign renewed their invitation to Smith and Wesson’s CEO P. James Debney to meet with students.
Across the country, youth and adults have been inspired by the leadership of students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. These Florida students became activists and spokespeople on the issue of gun violence after experiencing a mass shooting at their school on February 14, 2018. Most of the national movement has focused on changing state legislation about guns, with student walkouts marching to state capitols. Here in Massachusetts, which has some of the strongest and most effective state gun laws in the country, students have been walking to and rallying at the gates of Smith and Wesson, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the United States.
The B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign is based out of the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin on Lenox Street and is a program of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts designed to address the underlying root causes of violence. Teens from the South End and other neighborhoods of Boston, who are leaders in the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign, are asking Smith and Wesson’s CEO Debney to be a corporate leader in developing solutions for the epidemic of gun violence in city neighborhoods and schools across the country. Youth believe that creative steps would emerge from conversation and might include such measures as a moratorium on sales of semi-automatic weapons, such as the AR-15 assault rifle. A rifle of this sort, manufactured by Smith and Wesson, was the gun used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.
As B-PEACE teen leader Nikkia Jean-Charles said, “This is not how the world has to be or should be. We and so many others are coming together to re-imagine what might be possible between the people who make the guns and the people who suffer from the guns. We think we can find a better way forward.” Other teen leaders agreed. “We’re not here to shut down Smith and Wesson. We’re here because gun violence is a real crisis in this country. We’re here because we want to sit down with CEO Debney and talk about how we can work together to end gun violence. We have some good ideas and we think he does too,” said Maana Daud, a 12-grader in Springfield and a leader with Pioneer Valley Project’s Youth Voices United.
So far, executives from Smith and Wesson have refused to speak with teens. In addition, American Outdoor Brands, the parent company of Smith and Wesson, published.a report for shareholders in February 2019. “The conversation around firearm-related violence in the United States is largely an unbranded conversation,” the report said, in part. “The Company’s reputation as a strong defender of the Second Amendment is not worth risking for a vague goal of improving the Company’s reputation among non-customers or special interest groups with an anti-Second Amendment agenda.”
Still, teens believe that Smith and Wesson has a responsibility to be a corporate leader in finding solutions to gun violence. In addition to the Parkland shooting, Smith and Wesson is the brand of guns used in the mass shooting in a warehouse in Aurora, Illinois and the fully loaded pistol brought by a four-year-old to his preschool in Mount Gilead, North Carolina, among other examples. It is also the brand of weapon used most often in gun violence in Chicago, which tracks the manufacturers of weapons used in crimes.
On Friday, security guards from Smith and Wesson refused to accept the invitation letter from youth leaders, saying they would call the police unless teens immediately got off the property of the gun manufacturer. Teens were undeterred and promised to be back.
To find out more about the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Twitter @bpeaceforjorge.
Story and photos by Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs