Like thousands of youth across the country, Felix Brody has marched against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. From March For Our Lives in Boston to the March on the NRA in Virginia, he’s covered a lot of ground — but he’s not done yet. Soon, he’ll march 50 miles more, from Worcester to the Smith & Wesson headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Brody, a 16-year-old rising junior at Somerville High School, is one of the organizers of this march, called 50 Miles More Massachusetts. Along with a friend, he came across the national 50 Miles More organization, through which Wisconsin high schoolers marched 50 miles to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hometown to “demand he take a stronger stand on gun control,” Brody said.
“[Their march] started the day after March For Our Lives, to show that March For Our Lives wasn’t a one-off event, that youth are going to continue to raise their voices,” he said. “A couple of days after their march, they decided to launch a 50 more in 50 states campaign, to have each state host a 50 mile march to essentially call out politicians that are sort of weak on gun control.”
Massachusetts has the lowest gun death rate in the nation, according to multiple reports. Brody and other student gun control activists have noted that they’re lucky here, but it’s still not enough. Especially with Smith & Wesson, a leading manufacturer of guns in the United States, in their backyard. So they wanted to be a part of that 50 more movement.
“We’re so grateful to be living in a state like Massachusetts where we have the lowest gun death fatality rate. We have extremely strong gun laws,” Brody said. “But we have a gun manufacturer that makes weapons that are illegal in this state and exports them out of state, and that was a big issue for me.”
The Smith & Wesson contradiction
A Massachusetts law has banned assault weapons since 1998, and Attorney General Maura Healey has continued to strengthen gun laws across the commonwealth. And yet Smith & Wesson in Springfield manufactures semi-automatic assault rifles — including the specific one used in the Parkland school shooting: a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223 rifle.
“Smith & Wesson is causing so much harm out of state,” Brody said. While he hasn’t personally been affected by gun violence, he knows his Somerville community has, and he knows communities across the country have been affected in horrifying ways.
The importance of the 50 Miles More march, he said, is about the “daily gun violence that claims thousands of lives, that breaks apart families. I think it’s important that we stand up [to Smith & Wesson] because they’re in our backyard.”
50 Miles More Massachusetts march demands
A 50 mile march is a lot to plan, and a lot to ask of activists, as well. The 50 Miles More march will kick off Aug. 23, and Brody expects they’ll be walking between 10 and 18 miles a day. The student gun control activists will sleep in churches and community centers that have volunteered to help their effort and take breaks in parks. A volunteer group will help feed everyone lunches and make sure the marchers have enough water.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of walking, but also having a lot of fun,” Brody said. “It’ll be great because students from across Massachusetts, and some from out of Massachusetts, will just meeting each other and networking...forming new allies.”
David Hogg, one of the Parkland student activists, will be attending the 50 Miles More Massachusetts march, along with a few other potential special guests.
The 50 Miles More Massachusetts march does have a few demands of Smith & Wesson. The march is a collaboration with the nonprofit Stop Handgun Violence" and March for Our Lives: Boston, and the activists are asking that Smith & Wesson: Cease the manufacture and distribution of all weapons outlawed under the 2004 Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban, and donate $5,000,000 to research violence caused by Smith & Wesson weapons as well as monitor “illegal use of Smith & Wesson weapons to offset the lack of federal research funding for the gun violence epidemic.”
“They’re not willing to do that research themselves,” Brody said. “They don't know where their guns go and we don't know where their guns go and that's a problem.”
Smith & Wesson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Brody said that, though they hope, of course, that the gun manufacturer does respond, the organizers also hope that this action sets a precedent of youth raising their voices and calling on gun companies to be part of the solution.
“I hope that the world watches or at least Massachusetts, and I hope that we learn from this,” he said. “I think regardless of whether or not Smith & Wesson responds, these five months [of planning] will have not been wasted, these students’ five days will not have been wasted, because it will bring attention to Smith & Wesson.”
50 Miles More Massachusetts march location, start time
On the morning of Aug. 23, buses will leave from Boston and Springfield toward Worcester. The march will leave from Worcester Aug. 23, arriving in Springfield Aug. 26.
On Aug. 26, the activists will hold a rally outside Smith & Wesson headquarters at 2100 Roosevelt Ave. Springfield, Massachusetts. To register to march, fill out a form at 50milesmore.org/march-ma/ and for more information follow @50MoreMass on Instagram and Twitter.