PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo and First Gentleman Andy Moffit say their kids are particularly attuned to the gun debate playing out across the country.
“I would say that this recent shooting in Florida has been different,” Raimondo said Thursday morning in an interview with her husband at the kitchen table of their home on Providence’s East Side. Just a few hours earlier her daughter Ceci, 13, and son Tommy, 10, had been sitting there eating breakfast. (The governor found a spot of dried pancake syrup on her chair.)
“Maybe it’s because our kids are getting older, but this time they’re angry about it,” Raimondo, a Democrat, said of the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “They’re pushing me.”
The governor said that’s particularly true of Ceci, an eighth-grader who feels strongly about the conversation being had at tables like the first family’s across the country. She plans to participate in a nationwide school walkout on March 14, planned by students to urge Congress to take pass gun control legislation.
The couple says their daughter has their full support.
“As parents, you know, for us school is a very important thing and we wouldn’t normally encourage anything that deviates form that,” Moffit said. “But I think it’s a small thing that Ceci can do and I think it’s really important.”
“We had this long discussion,” Raimondo said. “I said, ‘You know, honey, you might get into trouble. Technically you’re not allowed to walk out of school and there are going to be some consequences for you.’ And she get it. She just thinks it’s a stand worth taking.”
“Tommy’s not so sure,” she added, laughing.
In her day job, Raimondo said she’s working with the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) and law enforcement to ensure students who choose to walk out that day are kept safe.
A RIDE spokeswoman said Commissioner Ken Wagner will be sending out a memo to all schools Friday that reads in part: “While respecting students’ free speech rights and responsibilities, we must also remind students why school attendance and school safety are so crucial to their education. We encourage teachers, students, principals, superintendents, and all school staff to incorporate these important discussions into your school community rather than lose instructional time and raise additional safety concerns.”
The memo goes on to say, “Each school district is unique and will work with the members of their school communities to support student voice safely and with an emphasis on this as a teaching and learning opportunity for all.”
Both RIDE and Raimondo said the schools themselves will decide on disciplinary action for students who miss class.
“If kids get detention or whatever that might be, so be it – then they’ll have to live with those consequences,” Raimondo said. “But if our kid gets detention I’ll tell her sit in detention and write a letter to the president or write a letter to Congress – like, use the time to further advocate for what you think is right.”
Eyewitness News reached out to Raimondo’s gubernatorial opponents – Republicans Allan Fung and Patricia Morgan and independent Joseph Trillo – for their thoughts on the walkout.
Morgan and Trillo did not immediately respond, but Fung issued a statement saying, “Peaceful protest is a hallmark of our democracy and I respect these students for wanting to speak their minds. However, if their actions disrupt other students or the learning environment, they must understand that there are consequences they could face from their schools.”
One of Raimondo’s top policy initiatives this year is a proposal for a $250-million bond that would be used to repair school buildings. The governor said she thinks some of the money should go toward making schools safer.
“The whole point of this measure is we want every school to be warm, safe and dry. And that isn’t the case now,” she said. “The old schools are less secure, there’s no two ways about it. … That’s definitely one of the benefits of this bond.”
School officials in Woonsocket have already said they plan to make the entrance to their high school more secure. The cost of that project will be almost entirely reimbursed by the state.
Raimondo is also a proponent of gun-free schools, butting heads with the more conservative candidates lining up to try and unseat her in the fall. She signed an executive order Monday establishing a so-called “red flag” policy on potential shooters, and roused a crowd of hundreds in the State House rotunda a day later as she joined to push for a statewide ban on firearms labeled “assault weapons” by opponents.
In an interview with Eyewitness News on Monday, Fung took a different view. He said he opposes a state-level ban on assault weapons, has concerns about proposed legislation to implement a more expansive “red flag” policy, and wants to keep the focus on criminals and individuals with serious mental health issues.
Trillo has said he believes keeping guns out of schools is a bad plan for school safety. “Having a gun-free zone and letting somebody penetrate that zone with a gun is a recipe for disaster,” he said in a previous interview with Eyewitness News.
Morgan has also expressed concerns about the red flag bill, citing due process. “I’m a member of a gun club and believe in our fundamental right to bear arms,” she told The Providence Journal last week.
Raimondo said she’s heard from gun owners and wants to assure them she isn’t looking to take away their weapons entirely.
“They look at us, we live in the city, we’re not gun owners, they think where we’re coming from is just to try take away their gun and maybe to interfere with their customs and way of life,” she said. “And that isn’t the case. So I do my best. I try to say that isn’t what this is about.”
Moffit said he fired a shotgun once or twice in his youth while hunting. Raimondo, however, has never fired a gun.
Would the governor ever visit a gun range to fire a weapon? “It’s not something I’d rule out,” she said. “You know, I think I probably should to get smarter and be more aware.”