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Faith leaders rally at the State House to demand safer schools



Faith leaders and youth organizers with the One Gun Gone Project met today at the Rhode Island State House for a rally in support of H5762, the Safe Schools Act, a bill that seeks to ban concealed carry permit holders from bringing firearms into K-12 schools. Currently, anyone including teachers, administration, custodial staff, and parents may carry a concealed handgun in to K-12 schools without notifying administration or school officials that they are doing so.

The rally was emceed by Sydney Montstream-Quas, President of the Board of Directors for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV).

“It is not responsible and it is not acceptable for legislative leaders to shirk their responsibility while our children, children like William Parsons, is shot to death last fall on school grounds here in Providence, are wounded and killed with firearms that are readily available and legally carried almost everywhere, including schools, but not of course here in the State House where the legislators work,” said Reverend Elizabeth Lerner Maclay, from the First Unitarian Church of Providence. “It is not responsible and it is not acceptable for them to shirk their responsibilities while whole neighborhoods near here can’t let their children play outdoors.”

“America has become a society addicted to guns. There are more civilian guns in the United States than there are people – no other country comes close to the rate at which Americans arm themselves with deadly weapons,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser of Temple Sinai in Cranston. “And this obsession with guns everywhere – in our homes, in our businesses, in our schools and in our houses of worship – has a deadly cost in the form of tens of thousands of gun deaths every year. If it were a disease, we would call it an epidemic. And this particular epidemic, like most epidemics, does its deadliest work in the poorest communities.”

“My mother has been experiencing PTSD since the day we heard gunshots right outside of her salon on Elmwood Avenue.” said Providence native and youth organizer Ysanel Torres. “Hair rollers were still installed when we rushed through the doors to find the neighboring restaurant owners comforting their bleeding son who laid on the pavement, victim of a sudden driveby. There were more witnesses than there was help, I could never erase the picture of it and it hurts. We’re living in the smallest state in America where you still have to worry about mass shootings because our state is one of four that allows people to carry concealed weapons inside of K-12 schools.”

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“This not about repealing the Second Amendment,” said Reverend Jamie Washam, from the First Baptist Church in America. “All rights have constraints. We advocate for smart gun legislation to ensure our general welfare and collective safety. This legislation brings Rhode Island up to speed with the rest of the country and draws schools in line with parks and federal buildings. We can protect children at school while respecting the rights to liberty.”

“In most school districts peanuts and peanut butter are not allowed in school for legitimate public safety reasons, but unannounced concealed carrying residents with loaded weapons are?” asked One Gun Gone founder, Scott Lapham. “It is time we allow our children the right to feel safe in their educational settings.”

Also speaking at the rally were Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence) and youth activist Halima Ibrahim.

The RICAGV hopes that the state will listen to the words of our community members and allow this bill a vote in the name of the democratic process.

[Compiled with the help of a press release from the RICAGV]

Representative Justin Price joined the rally for the Safe Schools Act as Representative Grace Diaz addresses the crowd.
Seth Magaziner
Ysanel Torres

A note on the protests:

As those who were present and those who are trying to listen to the videos above will know, there was a small but loud counter protest at the State House, organized by members of the Second Amendment Coalition, a local anti-gun control group. They booed, mocked, insulted speakers, chanted, screamed into my ear for over twenty minutes, pushed people and did all in their power to drown out the speakers at the rally. They mostly acted within the bounds of the First Amendment, aside from the pushing, which I’ll chalk up to accidents in a crowd.

These are the people Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have aligned themselves with. These are the people Lobbyist and Former Speaker of the House William Murphy represents behind the scenes at the State House. These are the people who want to be able to carry their guns into K-12 schools.

Not sure if the woman in the MAGA hat is saying, “Sunscreen drone town clerk!” or “One free clone, no Kirk!”

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.