Nathaniel Kublin | Brown University
In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, Rhode Island law makers have introduced a bill that allows district courts to confiscate firearms from citizens under specific guidelines.
On Monday, Feb. 26th, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order to introduce a Red Flag policy, thus encouraging policy makers to follow. They did.
On February 28th, representatives sponsored a bill (H7763), which grants district courts the power to issue “extreme risk protection orders,” when an individual poses a threat to themself or others by owning a firearm, or in other words, is a red flag. When the order is issued, they must turn over all firearms and ammunition until they are longer deemed a threat.
This bill was written in just two weeks after the Parkland, Florida shooting, in which an assailant left 17 dead and 14 more injured after using an AR-15 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This was one of the deadliest school shootings in history. After the tragedy, survivors began a campaign to push for gun reform in Florida, but also the nation at large. Locally, this debate is taking place on multiple levels, from high schools and college campuses, to the Rhode Island State House. While this youth led movement is gaining traction and national attention, it is not without opposition.
On Tuesday, March 6th, the bill allowing District Courts to confiscate firearms from people deemed dangerous was introduced, and hundreds of 2nd Amendment supporters came en masse to the Rhode Island State House in protest. With a line that went out the front door and down the street, pro-gun citizens came to peacefully protest by showing mass opposition to the bill, speaking in front of the Senate and House, and signing petitions.
“This is Constitution vs liberty, not blue vs red,” explained Eric Pagano, a pro-gun protester in attendance. He explained how Rhode Island, despite being a very blue state, has a sizeable constituency that defends the 2nd Amendment.
Pagano’s friend, who refused to identify himself beyond his first name of Roland, claimed that guns are simply a tool, and the potential of the tool varies from person to person. He wants the responsibility for tragedies like Parkland to be pinned on the individual rather than the firearms. “You don’t blame obesity on the fork and knife,” he said.
A third individual, identifying himself only as Patrick, agreed that people are the ones to blame, not the firearms, claiming that everyone goes through rough patches of depression and other forms of mental illness. Pagano, Roland, and Patrick had been standing in the brisk Providence weather for over 20 minutes waiting to get inside when all three men stated that they were against any form of the bill allowing for weapon confiscation.
On the inside, graphic designer Matt Defedele stood in the middle of the State House holding a sign with a screenshot of Congressman David Cicilline’s Facebook poll asking “Do you support new laws to reduce gun violence,” with the result of 22% in favor and 78% against. Defedele explained that this poll was taken down before the allotted time had expired, potentially due to the apparent overwhelming response against change.
When asked about the confiscation legislation, Defedele stated that he would be against any form of the bill. He would prefer that the bill be removed altogether, rather than work towards any form of compromise on it. He turned to a fellow protester walking by to say that he hopes the representatives have not made up their mind, hoping this protest had an impact.
The unidentified protester was not concerned about the bill. After expressing his confidence that nothing would pass, he said, “I remember after Sandy Hook we came out in force like this.”
Three hours after the rally began, and after hearings already began, a line of protesters donning bright yellow shirts reading “Gun Control Doesn’t Work” went out the front door of the State House, down the steps, and down the street.
The following week on, Brown University students gathered one morning in front of the campus center to stand in solidarity with the survivors and those affected by the events in Parkland.
Exactly one month after the tragedy, Brown students organized a walkout, featuring speeches from Brown University President Christina Paxson and Marjory Stoneman Douglas alum and current RISD sophomore Nina Gregg. Afterwards, they observed a moment of silence for the 17 victims.
As Gregg approached the podium to deliver her emotional speech about flying to Providence from her home in Parkland on the day of the tragedy, she looked over hundreds of students crowding together following the previous days snow storm. Despite the frigid weather, only made worse by the unrelenting wind, the student body stood in support of the cause that morning, both literally and figuratively.
“Change takes time,” remarked Gregg, indicating that there is something special about this movement. After a month of social media campaigns, numerous news appearances, a CNN town hall, and relentless vocalization of dissatisfaction, the walkout was a further reminder that young people are angry and ready to see change. As if this walkout was not a strong enough statement, there is a nationwide march scheduled for March 24th as well.
After describing how lonely it is to live in the aftermath of having your hometown school fall victim to an act of terror, she wore a large smile while looking at the large crowd in attendance. She explained how touching it was to see so many strangers that cared deeply enough to not only organize the event, but walk out of class in a show of support.
Freshman event organizer Siddhi Nadkarni explained that the walkout was a student organized effort. There was not a club, organization, or 3rd party group that put it together. Similar to the style of the nationwide movement, this event was organized from the grassroots by individuals who deeply cared about the issue.
“The conversation is lacking in general,” explained Nadkarni. Coming from upstate New York in Syracuse -- or as she called it, “hunting territory” -- Nadkarni is used to being surrounded by pro-gun advocates, and the fact that hundreds of students came out in support of gun reform was inspiring. The willingness of so many people to have such a difficult conversation is a sign that good things are to come, she said.
After the Brown walkout concluded, students walked downtown to the State House, meeting up with high school students from around Rhode Island. A crowd similar of about 200 gathered in front of the State House in a cluster, chanting “No More Silence, End Gun Violence.”
When asked about gun legislation, Middletown High School student Hannah Gibson said, “Guns are for killing: either people or animals.” She is pro-2nd Amendment, but explained that there needs to be limitations on the availability of firearms. In her opinion, there is no need for people under 21 to have firearms, and no need for anyone regardless of age to own automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
Sophie Cleland, a North Kingstown High School student, was excited that more focus is being put on people. “Enough is enough,” she said. While specific limitations of guns is useful, a more comprehensive approach that takes into account the mental stability of individuals is what will create lasting change, she said.
There was no scarcity of high school students ready to share their frustration-- and this manifested itself in the form of proposed legislation. In addition to the confiscation bill, there were bills limiting the types of firearms available, raising the minimum age to purchase firearms, prohibiting schools from offering incentives to teachers who are licensed to carry a gun, outlawing bump stocks, and many more.
Behind the crowd stood 65 year old Nadia Jensen, an activist who showed up to support the youth. She noted how the rally was taking place exactly one month after the tragedy in Parkland. There is significance in the continued attention and support that this cause has received, and she thinks is setting the moment apart. Jensen has lived to see many school shootings in her time, but is convinced that this time is different.
“I think they’re going to get this done.”