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Massachusetts is part of national gun debate

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Hundreds gather to protest gun violence

Jennifer Suryadjaja

In the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, hundreds gathered at Christopher Columbus Park in Boston’s North End to demand new gun safety policies Saturday.

The demonstration on the waterfront was just one of the nationwide gun reform marches held by March for Our Lives (MFOL), a youth-led movement formed following the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Justin Meszler, an incoming freshman at Brown University, said he marched in 2018 as an eighth-grader. This time, he is part of MFOL Boston’s lead organizing team.

“It is painful and heartbreaking that we have to be here again…I should be living my life as a young person now. But as long as I can remember, I’ve had active shooting drills in school. I’m privileged enough to have not experienced a shooting, but that should not be a privilege. This should be the reality for everyone,” Meszler said.

Isaiah Thompson is a member of Socialist Alternative, a nationwide organization advocating for a socialist economy. He said seeing the turnout motivated him to connect with like-minded individuals.

“Obviously, this event will draw people who are sympathetic to the cause. But it was still good to speak to people who [are] energized, want to do something and take that next step,” Thompson said. “They’re just like me; they’re appalled and disgusted by what continues to happen in America.”

According to a report by Giffords, a gun violence organization, Massachusetts has one of the strictest gun laws in the country. However, despite living in the Bay State, Thompson said he felt the ripple effect of the shooting in Texas and beyond.

“Boston is responding right now. Massachusetts has better gun control laws than Texas, but it’s still not perfect here,” Thompson said. We still recognize that an atrocity committed in Texas is still an atrocity in Massachusetts. We are one people, we’re one nation, we’re one species.”

Within three weeks after the Uvalde shooting, MFOL Boston members geared up to organize a march in the city. Jaylin Gemmel, part of the committee, opened Saturday’s event and introduced key speakers. She agrees with Thompson that more work should be done in local communities.

“We’re still having people being shot in the streets of our communities. Massachusetts is usually looked at as one of the best, but it still happens here. So I think that the reaction is the same as always, we need to get moving and everyone needs to get on board with gun legislation,” Gemmel said.

MFOL Boston worked with local organizations to organize the march, such as the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and Stop Handgun Violence. Gemmel said the organizers held daily Zoom meetings as they finalized details for the harborfront march.

Attendees who walked into the march without signs were handed a blue and white MFOL sign. Some who brought their own read, “They miss their kids more than you’ll miss your guns,” “Actually, guns do kill people,” and “You can’t have freedom if you’re not alive.”

Chelsea teacher Leanne Darrigo wore a homemade sign on her hat that read, “This time is different.” She primarily works with middle and high schoolers and said she would tell her students that she attended the march to show support. Darrigo is taking an empathetic approach when bringing up the mass shootings that took place in recent years since there are more social injustices taking place concurrently.

“Being an educator, you try to make children aware of [gun violence], but also teach in a way that’s sensitive to some of the social injustice that’s happening,” Darrigo said.

She understands her students have “gone through so much trauma.” To avoid overwhelming them, she said she is careful of sharing news with them.

“It’s not that we avoid it; it’s just that we don’t always give out a lot of details. So we’ll mention that things are sometimes unjust, and there’s a lot of other social issues that are happening at the same time [and when] you throw the pandemic on top of that, it adds to the fire,” Darrigo said.

Lawrence high school student Alejandro Rodriguez, who uses he/they pronouns, said the weaponization of guns in the country made gun violence rampant.

“Guns inherently aren’t bad, but our gun culture in the U.S. is terrible, and we need to change that,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez advocates for background checks and reducing gun production, and they understand that taking away guns from people can be a double-edged sword for historically underprivileged, marginalized communities.

“On the one hand, we see guns used against minority communities in the worst ways, as a result of a bunch of redlining and gang violence. But at the same time, a lot of gun reform would take away guns from minority communities that they use to protect themselves from the police because, obviously, [the] police attack more marginalized communities at higher rates than other than white communities,” Rodriguez said.

A voter registration tent was placed on the site of the march. Volunteers were also stationed throughout the venue, asking attendees to sign up to vote with a clipboard in their hands.

Meszler said registering to vote in the fall is key to seeing change happen. By weeding out Democrat or Republican candidates who don’t support gun reform policies, such as universal background checks, he believes it is a step toward ending the cycle of gun violence.

“We are asking both for continued activism and raising your voices to elected leaders and promising to hold them accountable with your vote because that is the way that elected officials know to listen to us, that we have the power to hire and fire them, and we will use that depending on how they act,” Meszler said.

Aside from voting or advocating for background checks, Thompson said having conversations with friends, family members and coworkers about gun control can create a lasting impact. At the same time, he said to use a moral compass to find grassroots organizations that align with one’s identity.

“I feel like for a lot of people, this is a profound moral issue — 10 years ago, we allowed Sandy Hook to happen. Ten years later, we allowed Uvalde to happen. Ten years from now, it’s going to be another school shooting of the most vulnerable people in America [if] we don’t do what we can to stop it,” Thompson said.

This article originally appeared in The Scope, a project of the Northeastern University School of Journalism.

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