Letter to the Editor of the Providence Journal

My Turn: Elizabeth Abbott

R.I. Should Defy the Gun Lobby

Posted April 23, 2018

Last month, impressive youth from all over this country brought their pleas for safety to Washington. The first “mass shootings generation,” they have been called, having come of age since the Columbine school massacre 19 years ago, their educations marked by lockdowns and other drills meant to save them from bullets.

Pathetic, I’d say. Worse than that, really. The supposedly greatest country in the history of mankind has countenanced the mass murder of its youth, allowing guns to proliferate in their worlds like gum wrappers at a ballpark.

As I write this, I’m thinking about Quenton Marrow.

Described as a “sweetheart of a kid” by adults who met Marrow when he played for Hope High School’s basketball team a few years ago, Marrow was shot three times while he was playing a video game one night in 2015. The bullets came from the apartment above him. They pierced the ceiling, penetrated one of Marrow’s lungs, sliced his forearm and passed through his right shoulder.

Marrow survived his physical injuries, but what about the emotional trauma that comes with being an innocent victim of gun violence? How does any kid deal with one minute feeling safe and easy, like all the world’s a summer breeze, then the next minute having his sense of security shattered?

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group founded after the Sandy Hook massacre five-and-a-half years ago, 96 people a day die in the United States from gun violence. The kids at Sandy Hook didn’t have a chance to beg for their lives. But the kids from Parkland, Florida have done just that. So two months after they went to Washington to beg the adults of this country to stand up to the gun lobby, where are we?

The Rhode Island House of Representatives recently passed two pieces of gun control legislation, which Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she will sign. One bans the use of so-called bump stocks, devices which enable semiautomatic weapons to fire like fully automatic rifles. The other makes it easier for the courts to temporarily take away guns from people deemed to be an extreme risk to themselves or society.

But two additional bills need to be passed. One would ban assault weapons, while the other would make it illegal for anyone but “peace officers” and other specially approved individuals to bring a gun into a Rhode Island school.

Second Amendment advocates have shown up at the State House en masse in recent weeks to oppose these bills. The question now is what House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello will do. Will he allow these bills to be voted on? Or will he bow to the gun lobby and let them die in committee?

On the night before an assassin’s bullet took his life, the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The nation is sick. … But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

It’s dark, all right. But we have stars. They’re the students who have asked for our help in making this country a safer place for them. Now, it’s just up to the people in power to see these stars.

Elizabeth Abbott, of Pawtucket, is a writer and lawyer.