The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would ban 3D-printed guns and other untraceable firearms, commonly known as “ghost guns,” according to a press release from the State of Rhode Island General Assembly.
University gun violence prevention group Thoughts Prayers Action and other supporters of Bill 2020-H 7102 held a rally in the Rhode Island State House rotunda before the vote. Members of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition also gathered in the rotunda to oppose the bill.
Thoughts Prayers Action planned the rally, entitled “Valentines Not Gun Violence: Rally for Our Loved Ones,” for the day before the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and another 17 injured. Gabe Mernoff ’22, co-director of the group, said that it was “serendipitous” that the House vote had been rescheduled from last week to the same day as the rally, meaning more people would be in attendance.
“We’re really sending a strong message, a love-themed message that people should act, that politicians should act on these bills,” Mernoff said. “We want to bring people together. It’s hard to do that on this issue but we want to do that the best we can. And we want to spread a positive message and hopefully help reduce gun violence in Rhode Island.”
Mernoff explained the danger of ghost guns: “They don’t have a serial number, they’re impossible to track.” He cited testimony from Colonel James Manni, head of the R.I. State Police, who told the R.I. Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 21 that of 52 guns seized from a motorcycle gang a year and a half ago, 11 were ghost guns.
Six speakers, including General Treasurer Seth Magaziner ’06, two youth gun violence activists, two Providence reverends and a survivor of gun violence gave speeches before the vote in favor of the proposed legislation. Gov. Gina Raimondo was slated to speak, but canceled before the rally.
Supporters of the bill chanted “thoughts and prayers are not enough!” while opposing protesters interjected with shouts and boos. They interrupted the speeches with calls for “no new laws” and to “love our 2nd Amendment” and “protect it till the end.”
Members of the 2nd Amendment Coalition in yellow t-shirts held signs reading “If lawful gun owners were the problem you’d know it!”
Supporters of Thoughts Prayers Action held signs and wore t-shirts reading “Valentines not Violence,” which were designed by One Gun Gone, a Rhode Island student group aimed at preventing gun violence through visual art. Scott Lapham, who founded the group, has lost four of his students to gun violence in Providence. Lapham started creating art around gun violence prevention after seeing that gun violence “was taking more people from my life than chronic disease or car accidents.”
After the speeches, supporters and protesters moved to the gallery above the House chamber, where the vote would take place. Members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence passed out Valentine’s Day cards in support of the bill to representatives seated in the chamber, while 2nd-Amendment protesters assembled outside the chamber doors.
Nina Gregg, a Rhode Island School of Design student who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2016, said “it was a really big shock and quite frustrating” to see protesters opposing the legislation.
“In this day and age, people still don’t understand the goal of what we’re trying to do” in preventing gun violence, she said. “I wish they did.”
Dan Bidondi, an organizer for the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition, said that banning ghost guns “would be an attack against our 2nd Amendment rights.”
Brenda Jacob, secretary of the Rhode Island Revolver and Rifle Association, said she feels like “every time something violent happens, that I’m the one who’s paying the price for it because they come after us and they want to take our guns, they want to restrict us more and more.” She said that the creators of the ghost-gun bill “don’t focus on the criminals, and they also don’t help with mental health issues.”
Supporters of the ghost-gun bill also rallied in support of another gun-control bill that the House of Representatives may vote on soon. This second bill would ban the use of high capacity magazines, limiting the maximum number of bullets in a magazine to 10. Limiting magazine capacity would make it “so you have to reload more … (and) help prevent mass shootings,” Mernoff said.