Metro, News

Rallying for gun control, thousands gather in March for Our Lives at State House

Gov. Raimondo, Sen. Whitehouse join young activists in anti-gun speeches

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2018

As the voices of young students rang across the Rhode Island State House lawn on Saturday, a crowd comprised people of all ages gathered to listen and respond. The Rhode Island politicians who spoke kept their statements brief, seeking to center the student activists in a gun control movement that has been led by young people — particularly the group of teens that mobilized following the shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Feb. 14.

“My generation has had enough,” said Victoria Richard, a ninth grader from Smithfield, Rhode Island. “Enough of thoughts and prayers and no change. Enough of children my age being shot in school.”

“Today feels different,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo. “And why does it feel different? Because of you.”

The protest — organized by Sophia Capalbo, a senior at Johnson and Wales University, and attended by an estimated 3,000 people, according to police — was one of more than 800 “March for Our Lives” protests held in cities around the world. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands turned out to stand behind the survivors of the Parkland shooting.

In Rhode Island, student speakers from the Rhode Island School of Design and local high schools called on legislators to enact stricter gun control laws, and to limit the sway of money from lobbyists like the National Rifle Association over Congress.

“Indifference should not be the only element that is holding these United States together,” said Tyler Alexander, a junior at Coventry High School.

Lawmakers echoed the students concerns.

“Remember that the NRA would not have the power that it does in Congress if it were not for the power of money in Congress,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. to the crowd.

“Until we change Congress, we’re not going to change the gun laws in this country,” said Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., while addressing the crowd. He was met with cheers of “Vote them out.”

Last month, Cicilline introduced a bill to ban assault weapons, The Hill reported. And on Friday, the Justice Department ruled to ban bump stocks, a gun accessory that can accelerate the firing of semiautomatic weapons.

“It is not too much to ask for universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. It is not too much to pass an assault weapons ban,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-RI, who was badly injured as a child in a gun accident that left him paralyzed.

Whitehouse urged voters to carry the momentum from the protest forward into the November midterm elections. “Remember why you are here today and remember how you feel today through November,” he said.

Some of the students present participated in a nationwide 17-minute student walkout March 14.

Vanessa Thompson and Jackie Emby, both 15, said that they were disappointed by their school’s walkout and hoped that the State House rally would jumpstart more meaningful action. At their high school in North Kingstown, a student rally for gun control turned into a memorial service for the 17 victims of Parkland, a shift Emby and Thompson said was spurred by the school’s administration in the hopes of making the protest less political.

“It was kind of embarrassing,” Thompson said. “You want to make a change, but you can’t do anything.”

Today, Emby and Thompson’s voices were heard. Though they were in fifth grade at the time of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, their lives have constantly been shaped by the fear of gun violence. “It’s something that you think about and plan in your head when you’re little,” Emby said.

Since Columbine High School Shooting in 1999, the United States has seen an average of 10 school shootings per year, according to the Washington Post.

Still, Judy Kain, an active member of the Rhode Island Women’s March movement, said that this moment feels special. “It builds and builds until the outrage becomes something you can no longer overlook,” she said.

She feels guilty that she didn’t do more to protest after the Sandy Hook shooting, she said.“The reason I am out and have been out is that I should have been out. I should have paid better attention,” Kain said. “With President Obama in office, it was such a moment of victory. I fooled myself.”

Protesters shouted down President Donald Trump’s proposals to arm teachers with weapons. On Friday, Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that would make some improvements to background checks and provide grants to schools for gun violence prevention.

Trump is currently spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Florida. The White House released a statement Wednesday reaffirming Trump’s commitment to keeping children safe and applauding young Americans for exercising their first amendment rights.

On the State House steps, speakers called the crowd to register to vote after the event. Speakers included Raimondo, Cicilline, Whitehouse, Mayor Jorge Elorza and State Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12, D-Providence. Student activists spoke as well, including Alexander; Halima Ibrahim, a 10th grader at the Islamic School of Rhode Island; Nathan Cornell, a sophomore at University of Rhode Island; Nina Gregg, a sophomore at RISD and an alum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; Virginia Nault, a student from Fall River, Massachusetts; and Capalbo.

“Soon it’s going to be us calling the shots and there will be no more shot,” Alexander said.