Until the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, Jennifer Boylan of Barrington hadn’t given much thought to gun violence. But once she learned of 20 murdered grade schoolers, Boylan felt a need to act.
“I just could not get over it,” she recalls. “I had nightmares about my child’s first grade classroom. I’m still not over it, quite frankly.”
Since then, Boylan has become a leading activist in Rhode Island’s gun control movement. She volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She writes articles and serves as a volunteer legislative lead – working to push gun-related bills through the state’s General Assembly. She also helps with “house parties,” where concerned citizens host educational events in their homes. (Since the Parkland shooting, these parties have taken place almost daily.)
Boylan doesn’t pat herself on the back, and she insists that thousands of Rhode Islanders have helped advocate for gun control, from signing petitions to joining the phone bank of volunteers lobbying for legislation. But Boylan is also a notable figure in the local movement, and volunteering has become a nearly full-time job.
“It took me a while to take on a leadership role, because I didn’t think I was qualified,” says Boylan. “But I was hell-bent on fixing broken gun laws. And it’s not just me. It’s an army of bright, dedicated, motivated people.”
Last October, local gun control activists won their first major victory: the Protect Rhode Island Families Act, which tightens restrictions on those convicted of domestic violence crimes from legally possessing firearms. Boylan is glad the bill passed, but she is advocating for many other regulations as well, and progress is slow.
Raised in upstate New York, Boylan worked as an environmental consultant before settling in Rhode Island and assisting with her husband’s technology business. While Boylan didn’t grow up with firearms, her husband is an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and he owns several rifles. She says they are locked and stored separately from their ammunition.
“I’m not anti-gun,” says Boylan. “We’re respectful of the Second Amendment. But we feel very strongly that with rights comes responsibility, and there’s a lot we can do to prevent gun violence, and we should be doing it. It’s pretty simple, and pretty moderate.”
Boylan still remembers that first visit to the Statehouse, back in 2013, to watch her first hearings. She was startled to see upwards of 400 NRA supporters protesting outside.
“It was just insanely eye-opening,” she remembers. “There were probably 40 people like me. I didn’t know them. But I know them now.”