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COMMENTARY

Nurse running for RI Senate: Mass shootings not just about guns

Challenging Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Lenny Cioe says Rhode Island must also do better in supporting young people by investing in health care, schools, and in strengthening the civic fabric, so that all people feel like they have a future they can believe in

In the past few weeks, mass shootings have again torn apart communities across America. The headlines are devastating, and they remind me of my experiences as a nurse in Rhode Island, where I have taken care of many victims of gun violence. I have cared for young men who have been permanently disfigured and paralyzed by random shootings. Every time I cared for one of those patients, I thought of how difficult their lives and the lives of their caregivers would become.

All shootings, but particularly mass shootings motivated by hate, call to mind the stretched and strained fabric of American democratic life. Sadly, the most recent spate of shootings is merely part of a larger trend of mass violence in the United States. According to data from Mother Jones, there have been over 130 mass shooting events in the United States since 1982. The data, news reports, and my own experiences make it clear: mass shootings and gun violence are a public health crisis for our community.

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When I have a question or am confused about how to make changes that strengthen our community, I reach out to my neighbors and friends. I have many friends who are legal gun owners. Under the Second Amendment, there is a legal right to bear arms in our nation and I don’t want to deny my neighbors the right to protect themselves. Nevertheless, victims of gun violence also have a right to protection and care. We should be able to come up with a set of laws that doesn’t take away people’s guns, but still prevents people who shouldn’t have guns from accessing them.

But mass shootings are not only about guns. The wide-scale use and presence of guns in our society makes it easier to perpetrate mass violence, but mass shootings are also a canary in a coal mine for wider societal and mental-health crises in our nation. As I talk with my neighbors, they tell me about the terrible conditions in our public schools, and the scarcity of opportunities for young people. Most mass shooters are young white men, around the age of 21 years old. Why are these young men turning their weapons on innocent schoolmates, people buying groceries, and even their own families?

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The answer is clear: we have built a society that has abandoned these young people. We must do better in supporting our young people as they transition into adulthood by investing in our health care system, our schools, and in strengthening our civic fabric, so that all people feel like they have a future they can believe in.

Our leaders in Rhode Island, such as my opponent in Senate District 4, the Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, have been slow to act on either of these much needed changes to protect people from gun violence. Since 2002, Ruggerio has taken nearly $5,000 from different gun lobby organizations, including the NRA. As of 2020, he has an A rating from the NRA. Ruggerio has not committed to bringing common sense gun legislation to a vote. Again and again, Ruggerio has listened to out-of-state, corporate interests, instead of the voices of his constituents and his community. I ask Senator Ruggerio to bring to a vote much needed, common-sense gun legislation that had already been put forward by members of the Rhode Island State Senate.

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But aside from just gun legislation, I also ask Ruggerio to begin investing again in our communities. Mass shootings are about more than just guns. They are about the very social fabric of our neighborhoods, our state, and our nation. Our state leaders are sitting on surpluses of almost $1 billion when there are huge needs for more affordable housing, health care funding, and money for our schools. This money needs to be used now, so young people can feel hopeful about their future again.

Until we begin to act on both of these issues, mass shootings will continue. I never want to have to care for another patient impacted by gun violence. Instead, I want to protect the future of our state. To do so, we must vote new leaders into the State House.

Lenny Cioe is a registered nurse and a candidate for state Senate District 4.