A gun violence prevention group has released videos in which they trick famous pro-gun figures into addressing a sea of empty chairs, representing children and teenagers who were shot and killed before they could graduate from high school.
Change the Ref, a gun safety organization founded by Patricia and Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was murdered in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, released the videos Wednesday.
As drone videos show sweeps of thousands of empty white seats, overlaid audio from 911 calls brings in the terrified voices of students trapped in schools while bullets are flying.
Speaking to the empty chairs in the first video is NRA board member David Keene, who was the pro-gun group’s president from 2011 to 2013.
Keene invokes the Virginian founding father, namesake of the fake James Madison Academy he thinks he’s addressing, to ask that the graduating students uphold the second amendment that Madison is credited with authoring.
A woman who answered the phone at Keene’s home declined to comment.
In a statement, Change the Ref said, “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.”
In one of the videos, Patricia said her organization released the video “to make a change to regulations on gun violence.”
“We are here representing every single kid that is not able to finish high school,” Manuel added. “We have to be louder, and that means reaching more and more people.”
In the second video, John Lott Jr., author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” denounces universal background checks.
Lott tells the empty chairs about his time working for the Department of Justice during the Trump administration, and describes people whose gun purchases were foiled by background checks as “three-and-a-half million law-abiding citizens who wanted to get a gun.”
In a statement, Lott said his remarks in the video were taken “out of context” and called the clips “deceptive and selectively edited,” adding that he spoke for about 15 minutes — much longer than the one minute included in the video.
Lott called on Change the Ref to release his full speech.
In follow-up remarks over the phone, Lott said he drove 1,000 miles from Montana to deliver the remarks: “I thought I was trying to help out a school there,” he told NBC News.
“It’s just outrageous that somebody would do that,” he added.
Asked if his video was deceptively edited, Manuel Oliver told NBC News: “it wasn’t.”
“We have back up to the quote: ‘universal background checks would not have stopped a single mass shooting this century.’ Sometimes there’s no need for editing and this is one of those cases. Actual words, real space, absolute arrogance, and 3044 empty chairs.”
Jay W. Walker, a New York City organizer with Gays Against Guns, which produces colorful gun violence protest-actions that often attract news coverage, called Change the Ref’s video protest campaign “brilliant.”
“Hats off to Change The Ref for doing this!!” Walker said.