Parkland parents trick former NRA president into speaking in anti-gun violence video

Empty chairs were placed in a stadium to represent seniors who didn't graduate this year because of gun violence

Published June 24, 2021 5:33PM (EDT)

David Keene, gave a speech to empty chairs in a Las Vegas stadium for the James Madison Academy 2021 graduating class. (YouTube/Change the Ref)
David Keene, gave a speech to empty chairs in a Las Vegas stadium for the James Madison Academy 2021 graduating class. (YouTube/Change the Ref)

On June 4, David Keene, a former NRA President and current board member of the infamous gun group, gave a rehearsal speech for the commencement address to James Madison Academy's 2021 graduating class. There was only one hitch: There is no such school. 

As he addressed 3,044 empty chairs in a Las Vegas stadium, Keene urged the graduating class to fight those seeking to introduce gun safety measures.

"Picture for a minute the young James Madison, for whom this school is named," Keene began. "This year, you focused on one of the most important of Madison's Amendments—the Second Amendment. There are some who continue to fight to gut the Second Amendment, but I'd be willing to bet that many of you will be among those who stand up and prevent those from proceeding."

Those empty seats, however, were actually meant to represent the thousands of young Americans who did not graduate this year after losing their lives to gun violence. Named the "The Lost Class" of students, three videos were posted on Wednesday that presented the fake rehearsal of a high school graduation. Sweeping drone shots of the stadium contrasted harrowing audio from 911 calls that echo the terrified voices of students trapped in schools during recent mass shootings. Each video concludes and asks viewers to sign The Lost Class' petition for universal background checks at

Change the Ref, the organization behind the stunt, was founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver, whose son Joaquin was murdered in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. The gun safety group also invited gun rights activist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime" John Lott to speak at the ceremony.

Like Keene's pro-gun speech, Lott cited James Madison and refered to his time working in the Justice Department during the Trump era, saying, "gun control advocates and Democrats will fight you tooth and nail."

The speakers believed they were at a rehearsal and were told after the filming that the ceremony was canceled, according to a report by BuzzFeed News. In a statement to NBC News, Lott said his remarks in the video were taken "out of context" and called the clips "deceptive and selectively edited." He also requested that Change the Ref release his full speech.

Seeking to raise awareness about mass shootings, The Lost Class' website states, "Although the futures of those in The Lost Class may have been taken away, they can still make a difference in the future of America by urging the government to require universal background checks on gun sales."

By Brenley Goertzen

Brenley Goertzen is an editorial intern at Salon and a graduate student at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Follow her on Twitter @BrenleyGoertzen

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David Keane Gun Control Gun Violence John Lott Nra Parkland