Gun Activist at milestone

Gun activist at milestone

By Jon Chesto and Shirley Leung Globe Staff,October 28, 2019,

John Rosenthal didn’t set out to become a gun control activist 25 years ago, but he became one when he decided to put up a 252-foot-long billboard along the Massachusetts Turnpike by Fenway Park.

Rosenthal and the late Michael Kennedy owned a Lansdowne Street garage, giving them prime real estate to send a message to thousands of commuters every day about stopping gun violence without banning guns.

The first billboard – photos of 15 local youth who had been killed by a gun – went up in 1995, and that is how the world got to know Stop Handgun Violence, the nonprofit Rosenthal and Kennedy founded.

After selling the Fenway garage, the nonprofit’s billboard now hangs off a Back Bay garage on Dalton Street and currently features Joaquin Oliver who was killed in the Parkland, Fla. mass shooting.

Last Thursday, the nonprofit celebrated its silver anniversary with a fund-raiser at the House of Blues that included Senator Ed Markey, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Families of gun violence victims also attended, including Tina Chery, whose 15-year-old son Louis Brown was among the images gracing the first billboard.

Rosenthal, a real estate developer, is proud of what the nonprofit has achieved in helping to pass stricter gun laws in Massachusetts, making it a model. There is, however, more work to be done nationally, such as requiring universal background checks and banning the sale of military assault-style weapons.

Thursday’s event raised more than $120,000. Rosenthal was happy to honor politicians, business leaders, and community activists who have supported his cause all these years, but it was also a night filled with bittersweet moments meeting so many who lost loved ones due to gun violence.

“Half the time I was celebrating, the other half time I felt like crying,” he said.