Earlier this month, former president of the National Rifle Association David Keene and pro-gun writer John Lott gave prepared speeches for the graduating class of James Madison Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada. In what they understood to be a dress rehearsal, they spoke to empty chairs about Madison's writing of the second amendment and encouraged students to push back on gun control legislation.
They didn't know they were speaking to students at a school that doesn't exist. And they didn't know that they would ultimately be giving their speeches to 3,044 empty chairs, representing the students who would have been graduating this year if they hadn't been killed in acts of gun violence.
Parents of Joaquin Oliver, a student killed in the Parkland school shooting in 2018, orchestrated the dupe to create a series of PSAs about gun violence and the gun lobby. Oliver's father, Manuel, told Buzzfeed News, "We lost Joaquin three months before his graduation. We know exactly the feeling of being there and receiving the diploma without your kid being there. Because we understand that, we know there are a lot of people going through that same experience right now."
Here's the first PSA of "The Lost Class," showing David Keene speaking interspersed with recordings of 911 calls from people seeking emergency help during school shootings:
Lost Class 1/3 www.youtube.com
The effect is haunting. Knowing that the "students" Keene is speaking to about achieving their dreams will never have the chance because they were shot and killed hits home as we hear the terror in the voices of those 911 callers.
The second PSA, featuring John Lott:
The Lost Class 2/3 youtu.be
And the third, featuring Patricia and Manual Oliver, the parents of a school shooting victim, explaining the purpose in putting together the hoax.
The Lost Class 3/3 www.youtube.com
"We are here representing every single kid that is not able to finish high school," Manuel said.
"People deny the actual reality," Patricia added. "And we cannot allow them to deny it because this is real. This is happening."
The powerful PSAs were shared by Change the Ref, the organization the Olivers founded after the Parkland shooting to empower and inspire future leaders to speak out and take action.
"We need to call them out, we need to show everyone — this is how they process the logic behind the gun industry," Manuel Oliver told Buzzfeed. "We need to show we're brave and we're not afraid of these guys. We've already felt the worst possible situation. There's no threat that can make me feel different."
The Olivers encourage people to sign the petition at thelostclass.com to demand that lawmakers pass laws requiring universal background check laws.
If Keene and Lott had done their own basic background checks when asked to speak to students at James Madison Academy, they could have saved themselves some embarrassment. If implemented properly, universal firearm background checks might actually save lives. It's gun legislation that the vast majority Americans already support, so hopefully this powerful message will get through to lawmakers, even if it does nothing to convince the gun lobby that their time has passed.
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