School Climate & Safety

Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents

By Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel — June 24, 2021 2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence by an organization founded by the parents of a student killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Former NRA president and current board member David Keene delivered the commencement speech to more than 3,000 socially distanced chairs as part of what he thought was a rehearsal for graduation at James Madison Academy.

The speech was recorded by the nonprofit group Change the Ref, founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver after their son Joaquin was killed at the high school in Parkland in February 2018.

The sea of empty white chairs was meant to represent high school students who should have graduated this year but were killed in gun violence.

Keene advocated for gun rights and the Second Amendment in his speech on June 4 in Las Vegas. He also urged fighting efforts to tighten gun restrictions.

“I’d be willing to bet that many of you will be among those who stand up and prevent those from proceeding,” he said in his speech.

Author and gun rights activist John Lott also spoke at the fake graduation.

Keene and Lott were told it was a rehearsal in the stadium, BuzzFeed News reported.

During their separate speeches, Lott and Keene called for gun-rights protections and discussed James Madison, the Founding Father who proposed the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

After filming, Keene and Lott were told the graduation was canceled because of a threat of violence, BuzzFeed reported. They had no idea it had all been a fake until a reporter told them, according to the report.

“I think it was brilliant,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was among the 17 people murdered at Stoneman Douglas. He said the “one creative stroke” exposed the “hypocrisy” of the gun lobby telling “kids who should have been graduating this year, like my daughter, telling my daughter in the grave she should have big dreams.”

The Olivers started Change the Ref to raise awareness about gun violence and advocate for reform.

Last year, they baked 1,700 cookies in the shape of a small person riddled with holes, representing bullets and the 1,700 children killed by gun violence every year. Patricia Oliver planned to hand-deliver the baked goods to the NRA office outside of Washington, D.C.

Manuel Oliver could not be reached for comment on his cellphone Thursday, and a representative of Change The Ref did not respond to an email. NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said she did not have any comment Thursday.

“This campaign is not about tricking a couple of NRA members, it’s about showing how thousands of empty chairs during graduations, have become a normal American tradition,” Change the Ref said in a statement to NBC News.

Patricia Oliver told NBC News that Change the Ref released three videos on YouTube “to make a change to regulations on gun violence.”

Although the school the NRA was invited to — James Madison Academy —doesn’t even exist, there is a James Madison High School, but it’s in Brooklyn. Their commencement ceremony was Thursday.

Related Tags:

Copyright (c) 2021, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
How Does Educator Well-Being Impact Social-Emotional Awareness in Schools?
Explore how adult well-being is key to promoting healthy social-emotional behaviors for students. Get strategies to reduce teacher stress.
Content provided by International Baccalaureate
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Responding to Student Threats: Schools Wrestle With How to Prevent Violence
The Buffalo shooting suspect made a threat at school last year, but wasn't flagged under the state's red flag law.
10 min read
A rifle hangs on display in the window of the West Endicott & Susquehanna Arms Co., Monday, May 16, 2022, where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased fire arms in Endicott, N.Y.
A rifle hangs on display in the window of an Endicott, N.Y., gun shop where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased firearms.
Michael Hill/AP
School Climate & Safety Grief, Anger, Fear: How Teachers Can Help Students Cope With the Buffalo Shooting
After a gunman killed 10 people in a racist attack, teachers again wrestled with how to explain hate and mass violence to students.
A person pays his respects outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.
A mourner pays his respects outside the scene of a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
School Climate & Safety Accused Gunman in Buffalo Shooting Was Investigated for Threat to His School
The gunman was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.
3 min read
Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.” (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
School Climate & Safety Fla. School Board Reverses Decision to Censor Yearbook Photos From ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Protest
The Seminole County School Board scrapped the plan in response to public backlash.
Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel
2 min read
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida House Republicans advanced a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP