2018-03-08 / Front Page

Gun Violence Rates Push Community to Act

By Jocelyn O'Neil

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (MDA) and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) joined forces for a community presentation to raise awareness of gun violence, its victims and what residents can do to support gun safety. The two groups presented at the Valley Inn, in Portsmouth on March 3, and some of their members also attended the General Assembly on Tuesday night, March 6, where bills were heard relating to firearms.

Gun advocates and gun safety supporters were out in force at the State House. Nan Heroux, one of the presenters on Saturday was there until 1 a.m. "I do believe that this is different, this is very different," she said, referring to the momentum of the gun-control movement and that to keep it going "we [gun safety advocates] need to keep up the pressure."

She talked about the students a lot. How they are the future, how they have energized the movement.

"I believe unequivocally that these kids have the energy and understand that something needs to be done. These kids are our future voters and they have experienced the trauma themselves to know what they are talking about.

"They don't want us to make the plans for them, we applaud them and we support them!"

For Jennifer Boylan, another Saturday presenter, the path to becoming a gun safety advocate began for her as a result of the Dec. 14, 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (Sandy Hook Elementary School), which killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school children.

"Sandy Hook changed everything for me," said Boylan.

“Whenever I was alone I would either be crying about it or furiously searching the internet for anything gun violence-related. I was obsessed."

The shooting in Sandy Hook led Boylan, a married mother of two, who had never been involved in any kind of political activism in the past, to join MDA.

According to its website, MDA is a non-partisan, predominantly, but not exclusively, women-run grassroots organization created by Shannon Watts. Watts, like Boylan, was also deeply affected by the Sandy Hook shooting and went searching online for the gun violence equivalent of Mothers Against Drunk Driving but found nothing. In turn, Watts started MDA as a Facebook page, and it has grown to become a national organization since its launch in 2013.

MDA advocates for stronger gun safety laws and policies from state and federal legislators, for educational institutions to establish common sense gun reforms, and for corporate responsibility from companies who sell guns and gun-related products.

Jennifer McFadden remembers the moment in her life that caused her to join MDA. "My daughter was around three years old and she asked me what a school shooting was. This is a conversation, whether I want to have it or not, I have to have with my kids," said McFadden.

"I felt that I cannot have this conversation with them if I'm not doing something about it. That was the moment I realized that I can't stand here, I need to move on this issue."

The momentum after the Feb. 14 shooting at Parkland High School in Florida has been “incredible,” she said, adding, “The leadership, especially amongst the youth, has been really good medicine for a lot of people who are involved with gun safety activism."

Nan Heroux, the second presenter on Saturday afternoon, like Boylan and Watts, became involved with MDA after the shooting at Sandy Hook. Later that same year, she joined RICAGV as a liaison for MDA.

RICAGV is a coalition of more than 100 partner organizations whose membership includes over 120,000 Rhode Islanders united in the effort to reduce gun violence.

Proposed gun bills have also been building momentum since last month's school shooting. MDA and RICAGV are supporters of several of these bills, including the "Red Flag Executive Order," also called an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), which was signed by Governor Gina Raimondo on Feb. 26.

ERPO enables courts to temporarily prohibit a person from having guns, if law enforcement or immediate family members show that the person poses a significant danger to themselves or others. Before a long-term ERPO is granted, the person in question is entitled to a full legal hearing and can respond to arguments that he or she is too dangerous to possess a gun.

Other proposed bills, such as the "Safe School Act," would restrict the concealed carry of guns by police officers and teachers in Rhode Island K-12 Schools, and the “Rhode Island Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2018” restricts the amount of ammunition a gun magazine can carry to 10 and under.

When asked about the upcoming school walkouts in solidarity with the one-month anniversary of the Parkland High School shooting, Heroux had high hopes.

"I'd love to see the students involved," she said. "I think they have a lot to contribute. They certainly have the experience to be there. What better way to participate than through direct action of a protest?"

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