Just how out-of-step is Rhode Island with respect to allowing concealed carry in schools? Very.

Rhode Island is currently one of only 4 states in the U.S. that generally allows the concealed carry of firearms in schools. Nationally, Rhode Island is an outlier in terms of our approach to guns in schools. The current law is also an outlier with respect to public opinion in Rhode Island, with a 2016 poll by Princeton Research Associates showing that 82% of Rhode Island voters support restricting concealed carry in elementary schools.

Of the other 46 states, most of them only exempt law enforcement. Some other states allow school personnel to carry, but it is highly regulated. In typical cases the teacher or administrator is required to undergo training and is responsible to report their weapon to school administration. In many of these states the person must first seek explicit permission from either the school committee or school administration in order to carry in school. School committees are typically allowed to determine what training standards are sufficient.

Compare Rhode Island’s approach to a relatively gun friendly state like Texas. Texas does not generally allow concealed carry in K-12 schools, but does allow school staff to be armed under limited circumstances. Schools in Texas have two options if they want to arm staff members:

• The Guardian Plan allows local school boards to determine training standards and authorize specific employees to carry on campus at all times.

• The School Marshal Program also allows local boards to authorize employees, but they must be specially trained and licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which oversees the program. Under the marshal program, they can’t carry firearms around students.

Even with these allowances only 17% of Texas school districts have chosen to allow school personnel to carry, and unlike in Rhode Island, parent volunteers and other school visitors are not permitted to bring their concealed weapons into Texas K-12 schools. Before school personnel are permitted to carry in Texas’ K-12 schools they must undergo a mental health evaluation and 80 hours of training by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Further, each application to carry has to be approved by the local school board.

No such safety provisions exist in Rhode Island, and we have no similar programs or requirements for carrying in school beyond holding a Rhode Island concealed carry permit. Unlike in Texas, Rhode Island school administration and school committees have no say over who carries in our schools. Additionally, there is no duty to announce or report concealed carry in schools to either administration or law enforcement. So school administration and law enforcement have no way of knowing if a teacher or staff member brings a gun to school every day, or if a parent or delivery person is carrying in school.

It comes down to training. Required training for CCP holders is insufficient to carry in a highly sensitive environment like schools. Live fire requirements for CCP holders in RI are minimal. The applicant must fire 30 rounds in 30 minutes at an Army-L target at 75 feet, and score a minimum of 195 out of 300. The permit is valid for four years, and no active shooter training is required. Compare this to the hours of training law enforcement in Rhode Island are required to undertake annually.

The Safe Schools Act of 2018 (H7591 by Kazarian, Ajello, Fogarty, Knight, Hearn, and S2289 by Metts, Goldin, Quezada, Crowley, Calkin) addresses this imbalance in Rhode Island law by limiting concealed carry in our K-12 schools to peace officers. Passage will bring Rhode Island into line with national standards, and make Rhode Island students, school personnel, and law enforcement safer. Ask your State Representative and Senator to support the Safe Schools Act today.

Willis Peter Bilderback, PhD
Board of Directors, Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence

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