The mass shootings that have punctuated America life in recent history linger as milestones in the mind of Adah Bryan, a freshman at Classical High School in Providence.
"I was nine years old when Sandy Hook shooting occurred," Bryan told a crowd of a few hundred people who attended a Statehouse rally Tuesday for a ban on so-called assault weapons. "I clearly remember the shooter's mug shot on all of the magazines in the grocery store checkout line. On the day of shooting, the principal explained what had happened over the loudspeaker -- that kids our age had been gunned down in their classrooms. During the lockdown that followed, I remember being scared for my own life. I was in the third grade."
Bryan went on to recount how she was 12 at the time of the San Bernardino shooting, 13 when 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub, 14 when a gunman opened fire in Las Vegas. and how she cried after coming on Valentine's Day in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Florida.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence organized the rally to show support for bills introduced by Rep. Jason Knight (D-Barrington) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston).
According to a legislative news release, the bill "would ban the purchase, possession, manufacture or sale of any semi-automatic assault pistol, rifle or shotgun in Rhode Island. It would also limit magazines to 10 rounds each. Violations would be subject to jail terms of between one and 10 years and fines of up to $10,000 each, and repeated violations would be ineligible for deferment or parole. The act does allow current owners to be grandfathered, and also exempts law enforcement officers. The bill contains detailed descriptions of what constitutes assault pistols, rifles and shotguns, as well as a long list of specific weapons it bans, including the AR-15."
In an interview, Knight was unable to point to the most recent example of someone being killed in Rhode Island by a weapon that would be included in his bill. But he said the effort is justified, to create "daylight" between a would-be school shooter and their ability to obtain a highly lethal weapon.
Gun rights supporters generally argue that Rhode Island already regulates guns extensively and that most problems are posed by people who possess guns illegally.
Yet with very few exceptions, the crowd that attended the Statehouse rally endorsed the idea that restricting guns is a vital part of reducing gun violence. Gov. Gina Raimondo was among the speakers and she said she was heartened by the show of support.
Still, there was also a reminder of the sharp divide on guns in America
Bryan was part of a group that walked out of school last Friday and proceeded to the Statehouse -- a story that got covered in The Providence Journal. Bryan said one comment on the newspaper's web site caught her eye, "in many ways it echoed the backlash against the many students fighting to make their voices heard across the country. We're being called pawns, puppets, even child actors."
"Because you are," said one man who was standing near the podium in the Statehouse rotunda.
Bryan continued, unruffled. While some might say students are too young to make decisions or know what they're talking about, "Let me say I am not a pawn. We are not pawns," she said to cheers. "I haven't lived long, but still many times throughout my childhood, I have seen shootings, mass murder and mass death broadcasted on the news. When I say I want stronger gun control, I’m not a kid who doesn’t have enough information. I’m a young adult who has seen these things over and over again."
The outlook for the proposed 'assault weapon' ban remains unclear. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have not taken stances on the measure.
In a statement, Mattiello said, “ The assault weapons’ ban will go through the committee process and I look forward to an analysis of the benefits it may or may not bring to our communities. I strongly support the Red Flag legislation because it gets to the heart of the issue by getting all guns out of the hands of those individuals who are danger to themselves and the public, rather than allowing the sale of some firearms but not others. A person with behavioral health problems should not be able to purchase any gun.”
Ruggerio said, "I will be co-signing Senator Goodwin’s ‘Red Flag’ legislation today. This is an effective measure that Rhode Island can take to remove firearms from the hands of individuals likely to cause harm to themselves or to others. The Red Flag legislation builds upon sensible steps we have taken in previous years, such as reporting mental health information for background checks and the domestic violence legislation enacted last year. I will continue to work to build upon common ground. I think most Rhode Islanders agree that we should balance constitutional rights with the need to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Many pieces of legislation have been introduced in the Senate in an attempt to accomplish this goal, including a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. All of these bills will be given a thorough and fair review through the committee process.”