For some reason, we’re not calling it a mass shooting. A shooter, wearing a black mask and camouflage pants opened fire on a party on Hartford Ave, wounding three women and killing Aynis Vargas, a 12 year old girl. Vargas was shot in the back, and died on the scene. As of this writing, police are still searching for suspects.
On Saturday, June 29th, from 6-8pm there is going to be a Peace March and Prayer Vigil held in honor of Aynis Vargas. The march will start at 220 Hartford Ave and end on Bodell Ave, where the prayer vigil will be held. It would wonderful if Representatives and Senators from Rhode Island’s General Assembly could be bothered to attend this event.
The shooting of Aynis Vargas occurred even as the General Assembly seems intent on punting on a raft of gun legislation that would seek to limit the availability of illegal handguns throughout our state. Reading about the Vargas’s death reminded me of the May 1st gun legislation hearings held at the State House by the House Judiciary Committee. Hundreds of NRA members showed up to rally outside the State House before testimony began. Representative Doreen Costa (representing the NRA and the Tea Party) spoke to the crowd, and later, during the testimony, spoke often and knowledgeably about guns, a bright smile covering her face when she spoke about a legislative outing that included lessons on how to fire guns.
After the testimony of Commissioner Paré, the following exchange took place. You can access the entire hearings here. Time codes are included after the speakers names.
Doreen Costa [128:30]: I just want to make one quick comment, Commissioner Paré. You did make a statement that you confiscated around a hundred guns, correct?
Commissioner Paré: Correct.
Costa: And you did also say that they were illegal guns, correct?
Paré: That’s correct.
Costa: And that’s my point because these bills would hurt law abiding citizens and we keep talking about the City of Providence… the City of Providence does need a lot of help and, oh my gosh, I hear every day what’s going on in the City of Providence. I think, um, Commissioner, I mean, Providence does need help, but we have cities and towns like Exeter and let’s say West Greenwich, East Greenwich, Warwick, Newport- We don’t hear half of what we hear about the City of Providence, so, the package before us would affect every single community, unfortunately, because we have the City of Providence. It seems that everybody uses it as an example and I just don’t think that’s right. Thank you.
What Costa appears to be saying is that the problems of Providence in regards to crime, shootings, the availability of handguns and the deaths of children is not a problem that the entire state needs to be addressing. The problems of Providence are Providence’s to deal with alone, and no one from Exeter is all that interested in the kind of common sense gun regulation that might help limit violence and save the lives of schoolchildren. To his credit, Paré answered Costa well:
Paré: Providence is experiencing what New York City did twenty years ago, and New York City took action, and so you don’t carry a weapon in the City of New York today without serious consequences. When I said that we need help, yeah, we need help. We need help from this body and we need the right tools, because we’re finding too many young kids and young adults on the streets of Providence with access to hand guns. Now these guns are made legally, by manufacturers in the US, and they’re sold legally as well. They’re getting into the hands of criminals and we need to put our heads together and stop that. The leader talked about banning guns. Look, I’m not interested in banning guns at all. You can have as many guns as you wish. This is America. But you have a responsibility to the community if you want to own 87 guns, that those guns ought to be secured. they can be a part of the solution rather than arguing about what will help and what will not help. What we have now in Providence is not working and we need changes.
Later, after some confusing questioning by Representative Lima, Paré elaborated more:
Paré: Look, if New York did it, the size of a city like New York, we could do it here in Providence and despite the other towns that may not have the experience or the problems that we’re facing in Providence, this is a small state, and your constituents coming from Tiverton and Exeter and North Kingstown are coming into our city so they’re affected as well.
Teny Gross, from the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence, who works selflessly to reduce the very kinds of violence that ended the life of Aynis Vargas, rightly went after Costa during his testimony.
Teny Gross [214:45]: It’s good to have a hearing on gun violence, gun accidents and gun suicides which is the common denominator as to why America is such an exceptionally violent country because of the amount of guns we have. The “good guys” as the NRA has called its camp- I don’t understand why [the NRA] opposes law enforcement, mayors and doctors- you should be in the forefront, supporting them…
And for you, Representative Costa, who mocks a little bit our city [of Providence], this is not Exeter, we choose to live in Providence, and at least 40% of people who live in America buy guns without having to be checked. So you contribute to an environment, in cities, that is deadly, and our kids, who often don’t make good decisions, and might have easy access to weapons, or they are now getting weapons to protect themselves because there’s an arms race. Again, if the NRA were a truthful organization, you would help make sure there is no black market, that 100% of people are checked and registered so our kids wouldn’t do it.
Costa was having none of that. Not only did she defend herself against Gross’s accusation, she went after Gross personally, because he’s an immigrant, an American by choice, not birth, and therefore, I suppose, his opinion is less valid and his facts are questionable. Costa was angry, and let her Tea Party xenophobia show.
Doreen [218:00]: Real quick. Sir, I wasn’t mocking the City of Providence. Colonel [sic.] Paré said that there was a hundred crimes committed in, a hundred shootings, and I stated the case that Providence was a problem, never mocked Providence and you keep saying how America…
Gross: Rep Costa, is this a question?
Doreen: It is. [Costa pokes her finger at Gross accusingly] You chose to make the United States your country, but yet you sit here and you tell us how violent it is. Thank you.
Gross: It’s a fact.
Maybe this is the reason inner city gun violence seems to be of no real interest to many members of the General Assembly. Aynis Vargas has the kind of name, lives in the kind of place, and has the kind of family that seems, to some people, to be of less importance. Just as Teny Gross is, in the eyes of Doreen Costa, less entitled to his opinion due to his status as an immigrant, perhaps the life of Providence native Aynis Vargas was less important to some in the General Assembly than the putative gun rights of NRA members who live in Exeter.