John Rosenthal

Meet John, co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence.

Why did you start Stop Handgun Violence?

I founded Stop Handgun Violence with the late Michael Kennedy, at a time when the Massachusetts arm of the National Rifle Association dominated public opinion and state legislative policy on an individual’s right to own a gun. We used our combined professional and personal background and resources to change the historically polarized gun debate and fuel our political advocacy strategy.

As a grassroots community organizer and businessperson in the real estate industry, and co-founder of several nonprofit organizations including— Friends of Boston’s Homeless and Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative— I have learned firsthand the unique effectiveness that Businesspeople can bring to public policy. Businesspeople have inordinate influence, access, resources and power to solve problems. When combined with community organizing and a sincere concern for social justice, businesspeople can help communities and elected leaders to dramatically solve seemingly intractable problems and change greed based bad public policy and bad public health outcomes into good public policy and good public health outcomes.

What are your most memorable social justice campaigns?

I spent my twenties as an environmental community organizer for safe energy and against nuclear power and weapons. I was a lead organizer against the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant in California and helped organize the largest protest in history at a US nuclear plant. Between 1977 and 1983 I spent over three and half months in jail for nonviolent civil disobedience at nuclear power and weapons facilities. In 1977, there were 1,000 nuclear plants planned by the year 2,000. Today, there are 90 nuclear plants and dropping every year because of the effectiveness of the environmental/antinuclear movement.

In 1995 as a businessperson, gun owner and co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence, I built a massive billboard on a parking garage along the Mass Pike near Fenway Park, with gun violence prevention messages such as “Assault weapons have stopping power. Fortunately, so does your vote.” During the 20 years that the billboard was there it was viewed by millions of commuters and tourists, elected officials, candidates and even President Clinton and VP President Al Gore quoted our provocative messages. Our current billboard, positioned in a prime location on Boylston Street near the Prudential Center, is designed by Manuel Oliver who’s son was tragically killed in Parkland, Florida.

In 2015 I co-founded the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative which provides law enforcement based access to treatment and recovery services for anyone with the disease of opioid addiction. To date PAARI has grown to include over 470 police departments in 33 states, helped change the national conversation around the opioid epidemic and enact state and national legislation and secure millions of dollars in funding and place over 22,000 people into treatment and recovery programs.

What’s your favorite Massachusetts destination?

The North Shore and everywhere off the coast on my sailboat named ONWARD.

Fun fact: 

Nature is my religion and I love to bike, ski, sail, hike, play tennis and do just about anything outside.

Celebrate John’s commitment to end gun violence and join him at our 25th Anniversary party on October 24, 2019.