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Recently Published Letters to Editors

John McDaid, Published in Newport Daily News, January 2019

Keep Guns Out of Schools

In a letter to the editor on Jan. 15 (“Banning armed school personnel will make our children less safe”), Bob King argues that legislation banning concealed carry of weapons (CCW) in our schools would make children less safe, but he ignores important facts.

First, King omits the fact that RIDE policy, announced by the commissioner last August, already prohibits CCW. Legislation would simply write that policy into state law. The sky has not fallen; the bogeyman raised by gun lobbyists in their perennial testimony about parents unable to pick up their children has not materialized. Believe me, if it had, we would have heard about it. A lot.

Second, while we’re discussing state law. The Safe Schools Act proposed in the last session would have carved out exceptions for off-duty law enforcement. Through their unwillingness to find common ground with the 82 percent of Rhode Island voters who support restricting CCW in schools, pro-gun lobbyists actually got themselves a worse outcome in the RIDE policy. No wonder they want another bite at the apple.

Third, King is factually wrong in his claim that ”[i]n the 30 or so years concealed carry has been legal, no CCW has shot an innocent person in a school.” One simply needs to visit snopes.com/fact-check/safety-first/ to watch a DEA agent demonstrating gun safety to fourth graders shoot himself in the leg. Or read the NY Post story (https://nypost.com/2018/03/14/teacher-accidentally-fires-gun-in-class-while-teaching-about-gun-safety/) about a California teacher who injured three students in a similar demonstration last year. And that’s just what a 30 second Google search turned up.

Fourth, while we’re talking about safety, here are some harsh facts. According to the CDC, in 2015 there were 17,311 reported unintentional gunshot injuries. That’s 47 firearm accidents every day. The inescapable conclusion is that concealed weapons present a constant, unavoidable risk.

Fifth, arguments that permit holders would protect students and staff are suspect. Applicants in Rhode Island only need to put 30 rounds in a 14-inch target at 25 yards every four years. There is no requirement for training in real-world tactical scenarios — or even drawing from concealment — nothing that would prepare them for the complex, high-stress situation of an active shooter.

Finally, even in the hands of trained professionals, friendly fire and collateral damage are significant risks. According to a RAND corporation study, trained police officers only hit their targets roughly 30 percent of the time; in an active firefight, that number dropped to 18 percent.

And that’s law enforcement officers with recurrent training and practice in high-stress situations. Allowing guns in the hands of amateurs is clearly not a move in a safer direction, no matter what King would have you believe.

John McDaid, Portsmouth

Elizabeth Abbott, Published in ProvidenceJournal.com, December 2018

MyTurn: Elizabeth Abbott: Say no to mass-casualty guns

I didn’t mourn the recent passing of George H. W. Bush. Newspaper headlines declared that the “nation” mourned his death, but I reserve such a powerful word for more searing losses. The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School qualifies as one of them.

I grieve Sandy Hook for the violent deaths of 20 first graders, six teachers, the shooter himself and his mother. But every time the anniversary of that 2012 horror comes around, I also grieve for a country that continues to allow gun violence of this magnitude to unfold in houses of worship, schools, nightclubs, outdoor concerts, movie theaters, and other places where Americans used to be able to gather without fear.

It has been six years since Sandy Hook. Six years of continued, epic gun violence in America, some of it on the scale of large-scale massacres like last February’s killing of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida, and some involving a measly one or two victims that don’t make the front pages, but happen day and night across this country all the same. Sandy Hook symbolizes all of them for me. It is an open wound deserving our grief because we still haven’t solved the problem of gun violence in America.

The issue is complex, no doubt about it. It is like an octopus with six arms and two legs, combining such unwieldy and fundamental questions as how we treat the mentally ill in this country to the correct interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Complicating matters is the architecture of our state and federal system, creating a patchwork of gun regulations that vary one place to the next.

But, does it really have to be so complicated? Even if every mass shooting differs in the particulars, can’t we look for the similarities and start tackling the problem from there? In addition to the massacre at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in February 2018, in October a gunman killed 11 congregants and wounded six others at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In both cases, the shooters were arguably deranged. But also in both cases, they used an AR-15-style assault weapon to help accomplish their hateful aims.

Last year, the Las Vegas shooter used the same weapon to commit the worst massacre in American history, murdering 59 people at an outdoor country music concert. So did the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016. So did the murderer who slaughtered 12 people and injured 70 inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. And so did Adam Lanza, the diseased young man, who thought it was a good idea to murder first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut.

A bloody list, with a common denominator – a military-style rifle that all but guarantees carnage if that is the bearer’s intent. To help heal the wound of gun violence, can’t we start here? Can’t we, as a society, say that the Second Amendment does not embrace the right to carry weapons that are designed to inflict maximum harm?

A bill to outlaw assault-style weapons was introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly last session, but House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello did not let it go to the floor for a vote. A similar bill is likely to be introduced in the coming session. If you are sick of picking up the newspaper and reading about another massacre, you can do more than mourn: Let the General Assemble know you support a ban on assault-style rifles.

Elizabeth Abbott is a writer and lawyer who lives in Pawtucket.

Linda Finn, Published in NewportRI.com and ProJo, May 2018

We all have rights, not just gun owners

In the freewheeling article on gun rights in Monday’s Daily News (“In defense of gun rights”), it is good to hear that gun shop owners on the island respect the current laws and understand that having seven-day waiting periods, background checks and preventing those who are involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or drug treatment center for all transactions are good things. These are strong laws that do help prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.

While Rhode Island does have some strong laws and law abiding gun owners, the article neglected to mention that there is no constitutional right in the United States or Rhode Island to own an AR-15 or semiautomatic assault weapon. At a recent House Judiciary hearing at the Statehouse, we heard Darin Goens, an out-of-state NRA lobbyist, claim “It’s not the guns, it’s not the good guys, it’s the psychos” that are responsible for gun violence. Yet he and the gun shop owners interviewed give no solutions to the prevalence of mass shootings or any rebuttal as to what can be done to prevent these individuals who often have no mental illness, but are instead just inherently violent or have an intent to harm from accessing firearms except for a shrug of the shoulders that these things are inevitable.

Goens mentioned several men who passed background checks, which he used as examples of law abiding citizens, who nonetheless went on to commit mass shootings. There is a disconnect between gun rights advocates saying that these individuals are “law abiding” just because they can pass a background check and the acts of violence they go on to commit.

And if individuals who end up committing mass murder are able pass background checks, maybe we need to look other factors? What Goens carefully neglected to mention is the fact that each of the individuals he cited in his testimony used a semi-automatic weapon in their rampage. None of them had been adjudicated by a court, nor was there a mechanism to screen them for any violent tendencies or intent.

All of these individuals used weapons and/or ammunition that would be banned from sale under SB2493 HB 7766 “Assault Weapon Ban of 2018” legislation introduced in the state House and Senate:

  • Jason Holmes used an AR-15 and a 12 gauge shot gun to kill 12 people and injure 70 in Aurora, Colorado.
  • Jared Laufner used a semi-automatic 9-mm Glock that held 30 rounds to kill 6 people and injure Congresswoman Gabby Gifford.
  • Stephen Paddock used 23 firearms, many modified semiautomatic weapons with bump stocks in the deadliest mass shooting in our country killing over 50 people and wounding over 500.
  • Seung Ho Cho killed 32 people using a 9-mm Glock semiautomatic pistol using 50-round, high-capacity magazines and carrying with him hundreds of rounds at Virginia Tech.
  • The San Bernardino shooters used semi-automatic pistols and rifles to kill 14 and injure 22.
  • The Sutherland Springs shooter used a Ruger AR-556 semiautomatic rifle with a 30-round magazine to kill 26 and injure 20.

If these individuals passed background checks and were still able to cause this kind of carnage, anguish and physical and psychological harm to so many, isn’t it time for us all to look for solutions? The most obvious is to ban the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. There is no constitutional right to ownership of them and they are the clear common denominator in our most devastating gun violence incidents to date. Seven states and the District of Columbia already have banned them, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Hawaii and New Jersey.

In a lawsuit that challenged its 20-year ban on assault weapons, U.S. District Court Judge William Young of Massachusetts wrote that the state’s ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines does not violate the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, according to an article in The Boston Globe in April 2018. Gun owners have rights but so do the rest of us. We have a right be safe and we have a right to legislate who owns guns, what types of guns they own and where those guns can be carried. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence has 120 Partner organizations and represents over 120,000 Rhode Islanders. We will always adhere to our laws, but we also know that “we the people” can change them as well.

Linda Finn of Middletown is a former state representative and current president of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

Rosemary Stitt, published in RICentral.com, May 2018

No vote scheduled yet on common-sense gun measures

In mid-April, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee heard from both sides of the debate on proposed gun controls in Rhode Island. Yet with the legislative session set to end on June 30, no vote has been scheduled on several common sense measures, which if passed, would make our state immeasurably safer. Bills under consideration include the following:

Assault Weapons Ban – military-style weapons, like the AR-15, are made for the single purpose of killing as many people as possible in a short amount of time. An AR-15 was also used to kill 17 in the Parkland massacre, 58 people in Las Vegas, 49 in Orlando, 26 in Sutherland, Texas and 14 in San Bernardino. Under what logic are these weapons of war needed for civilian use, and specifically, why are they still legal in Rhode Island? Notably, back in March, Bishop Tobin of the Catholic Diocese of Providence tweeted: “It seems to me that private citizens shouldn’t be permitted to own assault rifles any more than they can own chemical weapons of mass destruction. How about a little common sense in this public debate?”

Safe Schools Act – Rhode Island is still one of only 4 states that allow any person with a concealed-carry permit to legally enter a school carrying a gun. This law currently still stands despite the fact that 24 school committees – including East Greenwich’ School Committee – and 10 municipal councils in RI, have already voted in support of common sense legislation to ban all guns in schools. Of further note, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association supports this bill. How comfortable would you be wondering whether the person sitting next to you at a school concert or middle-school graduation may be armed?

High Capacity Magazine Ban – 66 percent of all gun massacres in the US included high-capacity magazines, which are defined as magazines with more than 10 rounds (bullets). The current law means that ducks and deer are afforded more protection than humans as RI’s DEM regulations include a maximum of 5 rounds per weapon deer hunting and 3 for duck hunting. Contrast this with the sick fact that at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 small children were massacred in less than 5 minutes with a high capacity magazine weapon.

Since reduced capacity magazines directly reduce the risk of mass-killings, it seems like a “no-brainer” to support this bill. Current and former RI law enforacement officers also support this initiative while per a 2016 survey, 75 percent of Rhode Islanders support limiting magazines to 10 rounds.

Raising the age for purchase of a rifle or shotgun to 21 from the current age of 18 – why should a High-School Senior – or a person still too young by buy a beer – still be able to legally buy a gun?

If you support any or all of these measures, please call or email both House Speaker Mattiello rep-mattiello@rilegislature.gov and Senate President Ruggerio sen-ruggerio@rilegislature.gov to urge that these bills are voted on before the legislative session ends in June. The massacre that took place in Parkland, Florida, which similar to East Greenwich, is an affluent, destination community with enviable schools – and by a twist of sad irony was named Florida’s safest city in 2017 – proves that nowhere is safe from the epidemic of mass-shootings. Avoiding a vote on these bills is not acceptable when urgent, common-sense action is needed in Rhode Island.

Rosemary Stitt
East Greenwich

George Burman published in the ProJo April 2018

Armed insurrection another way of saying treason

In a March 29 (“AR-15 could be effective against tyrannical power”), a retired Army colonel supports the need for semi-automatic assault rifles in the event that we need to overthrow our own government. What hogwash. This attitude seems pervasive in much of redneck society, but when this is clearly expressed by an ex-U.S. military officer it is cause for alarm.

The author’s scholarship is totally lacking, and the letter neglects to mention the numerous tragic instances when insurgents with assault-style weaponry were wantonly slaughtered by more heavily armed tyrants, as occurred in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, in Hungary in 1956, in Prague in 1968, as well as in Tibet, Grenada, Chile and other places.

The writer coyly states that he does not encourage the armed overthrow of our government. Well, aren’t we lucky. He also infers that the Second Amendment supports the right to armed insurrection, which it definitely does not. Armed militias were needed to protect the legally elected government and certainly not to defend against the government. Overthrowing the government is also known as treason.

Thank goodness the teenage protesters who filled our cities and streets on March 24 have more common sense than some adults who, unfortunately, didn’t learn civics or the U.S. Constitution while in uniform.

George Burman

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