Manuel Oliver is someone who knows all too well the devastation caused by semi-automatic rifles. He and his wife, Patricia, lost their 14-year-old son, Joaquin, in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, he's become an advocate for gun violence prevention. He and his wife have also co-founded a nonprofit called Change the Ref.
As mass shootings continue to devastate our communities again and again, Oliver said his son's suffering pushes him to advocate for other children so they do not suffer the same fate.
"I would love to prevent things — the shooting of tomorrow, you know, the shooting of after tomorrow," he said. "And I'm not always trying to, like these politicians, bring silly solutions to the shooting from yesterday or days before."
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis supports a bill that has already passed Florida's Housethat lowers the minimum age to buy a rifle from 21 to 18. Before DeSantis took office, lawmakers raised the minimum age to 21 in response to the Parkland shooting.
"The Florida governor has a very confusing way of understanding pain," Oliver said regarding other legislation DeSantis recently signed expanding Florida's death penalty. "He mentioned that this is a step that will make other families not go through the same tragedy that Parkland went through … It was essentially five years ago when this 19-year-old had access to an AR-15, so he should be working in that direction. And again, we can prevent the shooting of tomorrow or we can keep discussing different causes of the shooting from yesterday."
Oliver said while change takes time, he and his wife will continue to fight alongside progressive youth in America who are fighting for gun violence prevention, among other things, to ensure American children will have a better future.
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"It takes a little time, sadly, but true. It would also take a lot of victims, but we're going to stay here," Oliver said. "I don't have to explain to you that I have nothing to lose here. I will fight this until my last day. So, anyone that is trying to make me feel that I don't have the power or that I should be afraid of any consequences is just wasting his time. We're doing this to the very end of our lives."
Oliver and his wife wrote "Joaquin's First School Shooting," described as "a children's book to explain gun violence to childish politicians." Holes in the book represent the bullet holes that took the lives of 14 students in the Parkland shooting. Oliver says Patricia has been a champion, visiting politicians' offices to advocate for gun violence prevention.
"Maybe, just maybe they need a basic explanation of what gun violence is about," Oliver said. "This book is for a 5-year-old kid, so if you don't understand it now, then you have no excuse. You're just not qualified for this seat and then, we will need to replace you."
Oliver emphasized that while the book has been emotionally touching for him and his wife, the project is not about them — it's about Joaquin and all of the other children who need to be protected.
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