There were more than 350 people in support of the Rally Against Gun Violence at the State house Thursday afternoon, by far the largest gun control rally in Rhode island’s history. The event was organized by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV), made up of over 60 groups representing 100,000 Rhode Islanders.
This year the RICAGV is advocating for three pieces of common sense legislation that seek to make our state safer. The coalition wants to pass legislation to deny guns to domestic abusers, keep guns out of schools, and limit magazine capacity to ten bullets.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was at the rally and in support of the bills. Noting the presence of Teny Gross, executive director of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, Elorza said, “I can’t think of a better slogan than the institute’s ‘Everybody, let’s choose peace.’” Elorza advocated for non-violence training in schools, and asked that people join him in committing “to being preventive rather than reactive to gun violence.”
The rally was emotional at times, with a gripping account by Carmen Cruz, founding member of SOAR, Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships. She came to Rhode Island in 1999 to escape an abusive relationship, but her ex-husband found her and shot her in front of her eight-year-old son and her granddaughter. “Domestic abuse and firearms are a terrible combination,” said Cruz.
There was also lighter entertainment, starting with music from the Extraordinary Rendition Band, then Sheryl Albright sang a rousing version of “If I Had a Hammer.”
Myra Latimer-Nichols took to the podium to talk about losing her son, Steven, to senseless gun violence four years ago. Two days short of his 23rd birthday, Latimer-Nichols’ son was outside a club and accidentally leaned on the wrong car. The car’s owner tracked him and his friends down later in the night, and shot them in a drive by. Steven died, leaving his daughter, Nevea, behind.
“The last time I saw him and his daughter together he was telling her about the importance of education,” said his mother, “She was robbed of a life with her father.”
Said Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, “Every year we come here to ask for the tools to keep us safe. This is common sense legislation.”
Commenting on the need to limit the number of rounds in guns, Pare said, “If you need a banana clip, you should be hunting, not on the streets of Providence. We won’t give up until we’re there.”
Retired school teacher Wendy Bowen spoke next. Bowen was a teacher in Newtown, CT the day a gunman shot and killed six teachers and twenty elementary school children. When her school went into lock down, Bowen and her students, “huddled together in fear, with absolutely no idea what had happened.”
Students have a “right to learn in a safe environment, free of fear. Guns do not belong in school,” said Bowen, “Supporting gun sense laws would save so many lives.”
Episcopal Bishop Knisely led the crowd in prayer (but included a nice shout-out for random Humanists in the crowd) as Representative Doreen Costa skirted the edge of the crowd taking photos with her phone. Costa has an A+ voting record with the NRA, and is a keen opponent of most legislation that might even slightly inconvenience gun owners.
Sheryl Albright then led a collection of schoolchildren from six different schools in Central Falls in a rendition of “Give Kids a Chance” before the crowd was asked to move inside the State House for a direct appeal to the legislators.
In the main rotunda of the State House, Julia Wyman, legislative director of the RICAGV, made a valiant effort to be heard over the clanging of the bell that calls the legislators to session. She introduced Teny Gross who said that the law should clearly state that guns are not allowed in schools. “When my kids go to school,” said Gross, “I don’t want someone with a license to carry to be in charge of protecting my children.”
The last speaker was Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. Diossa is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The mayor introduced the Central Falls schoolchildren a final time, and they sang a moving song about Sandy Hook Elementary, a song that mentioned the names of all twenty children who died that day, a tragedy many in our state are trying to prevent from happening again.