Talking Politics

What to do about the American problem of mass shootings

By Ian Donnis
Posted 10/31/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: The death of 18 people in a mass shooting this week in Maine – considered the safest state in the nation, based on FBI data (per WUSA9 TV) – shattered the belief that …

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Talking Politics

What to do about the American problem of mass shootings


STORY OF THE WEEK: The death of 18 people in a mass shooting this week in Maine – considered the safest state in the nation, based on FBI data (per WUSA9 TV) – shattered the belief that New England is sheltered from such gun violence. Maine has high gun ownership and a low firearm death rate, something that “lulled people, in a sense, into this feeling that 'Oh, that could never happen here,'” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) told NPR. Now, the community is reeling, and the bloodshed – the first mass shooting in New England since the Newtown massacre in 2012 – is an awful reminder of how such violence can suddenly happen.

About four in ten U.S. adults live in a household with a gun, according to Pew, although Americans are split about whether gun ownership does more to raise or lower safety. The AR-style gun used by the shooter in Maine has its roots in the creation of an “amateur tinkerer” without a college degree (per the NYT Book Review) who “wanted American soldiers to have the most efficient firearm possible, one that could enable them to quickly kill a band of Communists,” according to a new book by two Wall Street Journal reporters.

Americans now own more than 20 million such guns, “a fiftyfold increase in just 25 years.” Yet Americans remain split on possession of AR-style guns, with some saying it’s consistent with the Second Amendment, and others saying it makes little sense outside a military context. Looking ahead, state and federal lawmakers will continue to wrestle with the question of what to do about the distinctly American problem of mass shootings.

CRUNCH TIME IN CD1: With about week until voters choose a successor to U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, GOP candidate Gerry Leonard got some good news in the form of a new survey from the Pell Center at Salve Regina University. The online survey showed Democrat Gabe Amo leading Leonard, 45% to 35%, with 15% of voters undecided. If these results (which leaned on a big sample of GOP voters) are accurate, they suggest Leonard has an outside shot of staging an upset in heavily Democratic CD1. The bad news for the GOP, however, is that a generic Republican can be counted on to get about 35% of the vote in a two-person race, and cadging enough support to tilt the outcome is typically a tall order. For his part, Leonard remains focused on trying to close the deal. After an interview on Political Roundtable this week, the Jamestown resident was asked whether he might seek another office if things don’t work out his way this time around. Leonard stayed resolutely on-message, vowing that he will win the battle in CD1.

FOCUS ON LEONARD: Here’s the GOP hopeful on why he considers himself the better candidate: “[I]t is my experience. I've served our country for 30 years, I've served in some of the highest places, and developed some of the plans and implementing some of the plans that have protected our nation from our enemies and adversaries. I've met with foreign leaders ….” We also talked about guns, why he would support Donald Trump as the GOP presidential candidate, takeaways from his outing on the Appalachian Trail, and more.

HEALTHCARE: An expanded partnership between Lifespan and Brown University has generated recent headlines via WPRI. At the same time, it’s worth watching for changes involving Rhode Island’s third-largest hospital group, CharterCARE, anchored by Roger Williams Medical Center and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital. The controversial ownership of California-based Prospect Medical Holdings has generated more than a few headlines in recent years. Now, with the Centurion Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, looking to buy Fatima and Roger Williams, Attorney General Peter Neronha has extended until Nov. 14 the deadline for a revised application by Centurion, even as United Nurses and Allied Professionals continue to pose questions for the would-be suitor.

CHILD LABOR: U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have signed onto a letter urging the U.S. Department of Labor to hold subcontractors and staffing agencies responsible for violations of child labor laws. The Senate Judiciary Committee this week questioned leaders of several federal agencies about their roles in protecting migrant children who enter the United States. The hearings followed news reports, including some by The Public’s Radio, about minors who work in seafood-processing plants in New Bedford. For their part, GOP lawmakers should turn away more young migrants at the border.

THE DARK SIDE OF CALAMARI: Squid is as much a part of Rhode Island cuisine as stuffies and coffee milk. But as Ian Urbina reports in a lengthy piece in The New Yorker and a related NYT op-ed, there’s a negative aspect to the enhanced popularity of breaded and fried squid rings on plates across the U.S. Part of the problem is how we typically know little about the source of our food. At the same time, China has come to dominate the international seafood business – something, Urbina reports, that has “raised deep concerns among American fishermen, policymakers and human rights activists. They warn that China is expanding its maritime reach in ways that are putting domestic fishermen around the world at a competitive disadvantage, eroding international law governing sea borders and undermining food security, especially in poorer countries that rely heavily on fish for protein. In some parts of the world, frequent illegal incursions by Chinese ships into other nations’ waters are heightening military tensions. American lawmakers are concerned because the United States, locked in a trade war with China, is the world’s largest importer of seafood.”

TECH HUB: Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts were among 31 federal selections as a technology hub. Gov. Dan McKee’s office provided this info as part of a release: The Ocean Tech Hub, a consortium led by Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, will leverage its unique coastal assets – including seven commercial ports and shallow and deep ocean access – to establish digital and physical testing and manufacturing environments for rapid prototyping and delivery to meet the growing commercial demand. In doing so, the Ocean Tech Hub will advance ocean technology innovation and become a global leader in the growing ocean economy.

TAKES OF THE WEEK – A mix of views from various Rhode Islanders:

Ward 3 Providence City Councilor SUE ANDERBOIS: “In less than one year, two people, 38-year-old Zacory Richardson, and 85-year-old Vanda Makovetskiy, have tragically died from hit-and-runs on the busy North Main Street corridor in Providence. I cannot sit by idly and let people in our neighborhood die from preventable accidents. Only a year ago, former Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune and the City Planning Department released a North Main Street Revitalization Study. There is so much we can do now to begin implementation – and help increase community and economic activity AND safety on North Main Street. That’s why my colleagues and I on the Providence City Council have launched the North Main Street Task Force, which will be made up of a dozen members, including me, business owners, police, the City Planning Department, representatives of RIDOT and RIPTA, and a Ward 3 resident. What can change? For starters, we can fix broken streetlights (already in process!), add more crosswalks, and allow pedestrians more time to cross the street safely. We need to spend more time fixing the things we know we need to fix. I’m hopeful this collaboration of stakeholders can find improvements and improve accessibility on top of helping implement the North Main Street Revitalization Study.”

RI GOP National Committeeman STEVE FRIAS: “The leaves are changing color, but Rhode Island’s fundamental problems don’t change. Recently, RICAS test scores showed that two-thirds of students are not proficient in English or math. The test scores are still below where they were before COVID-19, even though Rhode Island has received millions in federal dollars to address learning loss. Next, the Tax Foundation released its annual report showing Rhode Island is still one of the ten worst states in the nation for business tax climate. Meanwhile, the Ethics Commission and the attorney general are investigating top state public officials for a variety of questionable behavior. Will this ever change? Maybe not, except of course for the names of the politicians who will be making the same excuses in the future.”

JENNIFER HAWKINS, president/CEO of nonprofit developer ONE Neighborhood Builders: “Preventing evictions will reduce the inflow to homelessness. Evictions are traumatic for residents and financially damaging for landlords. What should be the last resort after other efforts are exhausted is too often the only tool for landlords when residents experience financial or health adversity. As a mission-based nonprofit landlord with over 1,300 adults and children as tenants, ONE Neighborhood Builders thinks a lot about how we can prevent evictions and at the same time welcome households that may have poor credit, spotty employment, or unstable housing histories. Earlier today, ONE|NB hosted a Fresh Friday – our monthly series featuring promising practices from the community development field. We talked with experts about eviction-prevention and the importance of intensive and highly coordinated resident services and property management. A few takeaways: communication between resident services and property management are critical to understanding ‘the full picture.’ Generally, if residents are falling behind on rent, this is a symptom of other challenges they may be facing; Person-centered and individualized outreach is key to building trust with residents and tailoring supports that are responsive to the core challenges; and deploying individualized tools like payment plans and mediation can prevent court proceedings and ensure residents remain in their homes. Ben Franklin is still right: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ ”

TONY SIMON, principal, Simon Consulting: “This past Monday marked the first time since 2019 that Providence’s Recreational Advisory Board met. I was honored that my fellow board members and Mayor Brett Smiley put their trust in me to chair this important board. Very often, we focus (as we should) on educational outcomes and achievements as a result of what happens in the classroom. More frequently, we put an emphasis on out of school learning opportunities as a means to improve academic performance. What often gets left out of the mix is how providing adequate recreational opportunities can shape our children by teaching them invaluable life lessons and soft skills, while also building community, parental engagement, and outside partnerships. My fellow board members and I agree that Providence’s Recreation Department is one of the most important city departments. There was much excitement at the kickoff meeting to start this work anew by focusing on three core areas: making programming more accessible to residents and expanding programming; increasing communication about recreational opportunities; and securing more resources for the department. This approach is backed by the dedicated staff in the Recreation Department, along with the mayor and City Council. This is exciting work and we welcome help from the public and business community in working toward these shared goals.”  

KICKER: There’s a certainty that all of us will eventually wind up in a boneyard. So why not decorate your final resting spot with a hand-made marker made by local stone carvers? My colleague James Baumgartner profiled artisan Karin Sprague. As she notes, “The chisel responds to the slate with every mark you make. The chisel and mallet in the stone, into slate will create a mark. And today even, you can walk into some of our oldest New England cemeteries and look at a stone, a slate stone that's 350 years old and it looks like it was carved yesterday, you can still see the chisel marks from the carver. So if it's great quality slate and it's cared for lovingly in the cemetery, it's a stunning artifact.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.