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East TN Gun safety advocates protest opening of Smith & Wesson facility in Maryville, Tennessee | #schoolsaftey | #hacking | #aihp

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Smith & Wesson cut the ribbon at their new headquarters in East Tennessee on Saturday.

The $160 million facility in Maryville is bringing nearly 800 jobs to the area. President and CEO of Smith & Wesson Mark Smith said they chose East Tennessee because of its community.

“The unwavering support for the second amendment and our business and our industry that we feel in Tennessee, at the end of the day was the absolute hands down deal maker for us,” Smith said.

Not everyone in the area sees the new facility as a positive thing. Gun safety advocates with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action held a demonstration protesting against the gun manufacturer moving in. Gun violence is something Chris Buice is all too familiar with.

“It shatters schools, it shatters communities, it shatters families,” he said.

Buice is a minister at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, where two people were killed in a mass shooting in 2008.

Not even a month later, a student was killed in a shooting at Central High School where Buice’s daughter attended at the time. He also said there was a shooting at his high school when he was a student, where a security guard was shot and killed. Buice’s son attended Austin-East Magnet High School, a community that’s been impacted by various acts of gun violence over the years.

He joined Students Demand Action in protesting the new headquarters.

“I’d like to see our elected leaders be as responsible as our young people are, I’d love to see our elected leaders care as much about the safety of children as our young adults are,” Buice said.

One of those young adults was Iman Omer, a student at Vanderbilt University who has worked with Students Demand Action since 2018.

“Gun violence has really hit home in March with the Covenant shooting, and our community is already going through so much grief and trauma,” Omer said. “So, Smith & Wesson coming in to Maryville, setting up their headquarters here and manufacturing guns here, it affects all of us in Tennessee.”

Smith said they’re excited about moving into East Tennessee despite some pushback.

“We fully respect everybody’s rights, all their constitutional rights and the first amendment is one of their constitutional rights,” Buice said. “So in this country, that’s one of the beautiful things about this country is that we’re free to disagree with each other and so we respect their rights and today is just about celebrating us opening up this facility.”

Following the ribbon cutting, Smith & Wesson held a fall festival open to the community. Tickets for the festival sold out prior to the event.

Students Demand Action also flew a helicopter with a banner over the fall festival. The banner featured a message about gun violence against children.

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