Glocester woman at center of suit challenging state’s recent changes to gun law

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GLOCESTER – She is a familiar face testifying before the Rhode Island General Assembly, commenting on social media, and interviewing in the media. Laurie Gaddis Barrett, a Glocester mother, speaks her perspective on what is happening in classrooms and the treatment of students.

She voiced an opinion on proposed Rhode Island legislation to mandate the COVID vaccine for which she was interviewed on TV by Tucker Carlson of FOX News.  

Her most recent endeavor, however, is working with plaintiffs on a lawsuit with the Providence law firm Kelly, Souza, and Parmenter. 

The lawsuit, on behalf of Big Bear Hunting and Fishing supply store in Glocester and other plaintiffs, contends gun control laws signed last week by Gov. Dan McKee violate the Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment.

More than an advocate for a single issue, Gaddis Barrett says she perceives overlap between, “what’s being taught in our schools,” and keeping schools safe.  

“I see the overarching issue to be the continual erosion of constitutional rights,” she explained.

She says the issue of gun control got co-opted because of the recent tragic shooting in Ulvalde.

Although issues surrounding the Second Amendment might have a dividing effect, Gaddis Barrett is not alone in her beliefs, particularly in northern Rhode Island, where Town Councils in several communities have passed resolutions declaring themselves, “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.”

Last week McKee, wearing a red ‘Moms Demand Action,’ t-shirt, signed into law three gun control bills, including one that that limits the size of magazines.

But Republican General Assembly members representing Glocester, Burrillville, North Smithfield, and Foster largely rejected the gun control bills, including Senate Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz; Rep. David Place; House Minority Whip Michael Chippendale; Sen. Gordon Rogers; and and Rep. Brian Newberry. The opposition also included one northern Rhode Island Democrat, Rep. Bernard Hawkins of District 53 in Glocester and Smithfield.

Voting records can be found here and here

A recent Rasmussen nationwide survey found that 51 percent of likely U.S. voters don’t think stricter gun control laws would help prevent shootings, and 38 percent think stricter gun control laws would help prevent mass shootings, while another 11 percent are not sure. Another Rasmussen poll found that 69 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of Democrats, and 53 percent of those unaffiliated reject stricter gun laws.

Gaddis Barrett is the kind of parent who helped in the classroom, with the PTO, and on field trips. Then, she says, pandemic restrictions and upheaval of daily school life were a catalyst to take action on the political playing field.

At the time of the NRI NOW interview of Gaddis Barrett, the lawsuit challenging the newly passed gun legislation had not yet been filed. She said at least 800 people had expressed interest in signing on to the suit, a number she expects will soon reach 1,000. 

Kelly, Souza, & Parmenter argues in the suit: “If left standing unchallenged, [the bill] would open the door to government’s ability to acquire private property, and obviate a takings clause issue by legislating under the guides of ‘public safety’ in times of public fear, media outrage, and great political discourse.”  

A calm-sounding Gaddis Barrett notes she first became known for her work in education. From experience working on a lawsuit about the masking of school kids, she gained the ability to organize plaintiffs of the current suit, people who she says, “are a pleasure to get to know,” and are “diverse,” from, “all walks of life.”  

“Diverse,” seems the word to describe Gaddis Barrett’s interests. 

Tucker Carlson interviewed her as a representative of ParentsUnitedRI about the RI Senate Bill 2552, titled Relating To Health And Safety- Immunization Against Covid-19, introduced by Sen. Samuel Bell of District 5 in Providence. 

Bell’s proposed legislation would mandate the Covid-19 vaccine. Rhode Islanders who chose not to receive the vaccine would face punishment, including a monthly fine. The bill resulted in protest rallies, including one as at Bell’s home and in Johnston and Greenville.  

Gaddis Barrett told Tucker Carlson and his audience,  “I never dreamed I would find a bill like that introduced,” and she said state representatives heard from constituents, “calling on them left and right to ask it it was real or if it was an Internet hoax.” 

The busy advocate seems to smoothly navigate from issue to issue, from taking a stand on the student masking issue and on the content of the classroom curriculum, to addressing health legislation and working with Second Amendment supporters. 

She seems unwavering in her efforts, even when challenged, as she was recently by Deputy Majority leader Jason Knight, a Democrat from District 67 in Barrington and Warren, who suggested if Gaddis Barrett didn’t like school policies, then she could move away. Knight said this at a hearing for House Bill 7138, a Parents Rights Bill, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Morgan, a Republican from District 26 in West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick.

Last September, Gaddis Barrett and like-minded parents and grandparents, some from Glocester including Richard Southwell, got together about the issue of student masking. The adults got a lawyer, Gregory Piccirilli, and sued the governor, and the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, over the mask mandate in the case Southwell v. McKee. The petition was ultimately denied

On their website, ParentsUnitedRI describe themselves as a  “grassroots movement of mothers, fathers, and concerned citizen groups across Rhode Island … who are banding together to preserve the rights of parents when it comes to their children’s education and health.

ParentsUnitedRI’s belief is, “that parents – not government ideologues – have the moral and legal right to determine our children’s educational and health paths.”

“Our schools belong to all of us, not just the handful of special interest activists who sit on our school boards and appointed school system positions,” the site states. “It’s time to put students and families first.”

Gaddis Barrett and others who are participating in the legislative process, including some candidates running against incumbents in the General Assembly, have been calling out legislators on specific issues. In March, she her attention turned to Rep. Justine Caldwell, a Democrat from District 30 in East Greenwich and West Greenwich, when she posted on Twitter, “On Feb 9, @Justine4RI signaled support for mask-free in K-12 schools. On Feb 10, THE VERY NEXT DAY, she explicitly voted against an amendment that would have unmasked the children.” 

Soon after Gaddis Barrett was interviewed for this article, two news stories relevant to her work broke: the Kelly, Souza, & Parmenter law firm lawsuit was filed, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York gun law was unconstitutional. 

Rhode Island was named in a SCOTUS Second Amendment ruling.  

“New York’s law was specifically challenged in the case, but the Supreme Court’s ruling will apply to the other eight states that still maintain ‘may-issue’ laws. In addition to New York, the states include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island,” the ruling stated.

“We too agree, and now hold, consistent with Heller and McDonald, that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.” 

Thomas, “laid out a tough new test for gun restrictions to meet under the Second Amendment, saying courts should look to constitutional text and the nation’s history — and shouldn’t defer to legislative determinations,” reported BloombergLaw.com.

For Gaddis Barrett, the news marks a small step forward in a long and versatile campaign she sees as a fight to protect constitutional rights.

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