2018-06-21 / Front Page

Gun Safety Forum at Pell

No Parents or Children Present
By James Merolla

Local politicians, police officers, Newport officials and about 16 audience members participated in a 75-minute gun safety forum held at Pell Elementary School on June 16, organized by the Newport Democratic City Committee.

No parents of school-aged children, teens or children were in attendance. Host Bud Cicilline, chair of the group, attributed the lack of family attendance to Pell School night at the Newport Gulls baseball game, which was held at the same time.

The forum welcomed members of gun safety organizations and local leaders to discuss the rights of gun owners and gun safety legislation that has been introduced locally, as well as community safety, policies and procedures to keep Newport schools safe.

“We know that this can be pretty interesting, a euphemism for a divisive topic,” said Cicilline. “We look for a civil discourse; no attacks on anyone. We want people to feel comfortable.”

Cicilline introduced speaker Linda Finn, state representative (D-Middletown/Portsmouth) and chairperson of the R.I. Coalition Against Gun Violence, along with Newport police officers Brett Misturado and Joshua Wildes.

The coalition was founded by Finn in 2013 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 students and six staff were killed.

“Rhode Island is a state that has very good gun laws already,” she said.

She cited the state’s seven-day waiting period, known as a “cooling off” period, before a gun can be purchased. “We also do background checks. Some things we think can be done better. Most people who own guns, they do the right thing with them,” she said.

Finn said that Rhode Island is one of only four states that allows “anyone with a permit” to walk onto school property. “It’s a safety issue. We are just trying to change that,” she said, maintaining that gun possession on school grounds should be restricted to law enforcement.

She also wants to ban military style assault weapons. “We just feel as though 18-year-old kids shouldn’t be able to buy an AR15,” she said.

The state also received a grant after the shootings in Parkland, Florida that allows a forum for youth to discuss these traumatic events.

Finn said that both the House and Senate are debating a bill to ban bump stocks, the rapid-reload device that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to kill dozens in seconds.

The legislature is also debating the so-called “Red Flag” bill that allows individuals to petition the court to prevent someone from buying a firearm, if they feel that the person is a danger to themselves or others. The bill was put in place in other states after the recent San Bernardino shootings. Also in discussion is raising the age to own a gun.

Misturado said that, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, his department has prepared a School Resource Officer program through Newport schools. “It’s going pretty well at Rogers High School. If you can make that [place] secure, you can pretty much make any place secure,” he said.

“The kids have been great, too,” he added. “Kids manage to take it in stride. They are very receptive to what the adults tell them.”

State Rep. Lauren Carson (D-Newport), and City Councilors Lynn Ceglie and Jeanne Marie Napolitano also attended. School Committee member Sandra Flowers joined the dais after the meeting began.

Misturado, fielding questions from the audience, said the city is attempting to limit the entry points to Rogers High, and that 12 to 18 new cameras were installed in the school that are connected to the police station.

It was suggested that every school should have metal detectors and other concrete deterrents near the door and on school grounds to limit individual and car access. Misturado said it would be a financial and logistical difficulty to process up to 800 students, coming and going through detectors.

“Not every parent, student or teacher wants the school to be like a prison,” said Finn. “Urban schools don’t want to feel school is a prison [and] not really a welcoming environment for children. There are different ways to offer security,” she said.

Misturado said community police officers have become a cross between being a detective and a social worker, holding increasing concerns for those with mental health issues who seek to possess guns.

“I think that you’d agree, gun violence is not anything anyone likes,” Cicilline said. “We want to have the sense that we accomplished something tonight.”

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