Tom Killin Dalglish: Guns in school - Little Compton council, school board disagree

[Originally published in EastBayRI.com]

LITTLE COMPTON — In separate votes last week, the Little Compton School Committee and the Town Council came down on opposite sides of "No Guns in Schools" legislation now under consideration in the Rhode Island House and Senate.

The Town Council voted 3-1 on Thursday not to support the no-guns legislative proposal, with Councilors Charles Appleton Jr, Fred Bodington III, and Paul Golembeske all voting no, and council President Robert Mushen voting yes, to support it. Councilor Gary Mataronas was absent.

The School Committee on Wednesday voted 3-2 favoring the legislative measures, with School Committee members Patrick McHugh and Polly Allen, and Chairman Tom Allder voting in favor, and members Peg Bugara and Lori Craffey voting against.

"Our attorney advised us to talk with the police chief first," Ms. Craffey said on Friday, in explaining her vote.

"I fully support those bills, along with the rest of the law enforcement community," said Little Compton Police Chief Buzzy Marion Friday.

"Especially in a community like Little Compton," he said. "God Forbid, if our officers go into a school and see someone brandishing a gun and don't know who that individual is, that's a concern of mine. That person could be harmed. If a teacher is carrying, I don't think that's the thing to do. That causes me concern."

"I think it makes sense, when people say they don't want guns in schools except for police officers," said Interim Little Compton School Superintendent Robert Power on Friday, of the "No Guns in School" legislative proposals.

"The vote reflects what the town feels about guns in schools. If people are in the building with weapons, I'd want them to be sworn police officers," he said."

Companion bills in the House (H 7243) and Senate (S 2761), would prohibit guns on school grounds, with exceptions such as for firearms instruction, ROTC programs, interscholastic shooting and marksmanship events, military history and firearms collection courses, and blank guns in theatrical or athletic events.

Currently, Rhode Island law prohibits anyone from carrying a gun on school grounds, but there is an exception — "for people who qualify for concealed carry permits (CCPs)."

Ending the CCP exception has become a rallying point for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, which this year in towns and cities across the state is seeking town council and school committee support for the legislation abolishing the concealed carry exception.

On behalf of the Coalition, Little Compton resident Jana Porter brought resolutions seeking support for the "no gun in schools" state legislation to the school committee.

"Only two communities in the state — Cranston and Little Compton — have opposed the legislation," said Ms. Porter. Last year, of the 23 school committees that voted on the issue, all voted against concealed carrying in schools.

Town Clerk Carol Wordell said Friday her office had received 115 e-mails from all over the state asking the Little Compton Council to oppose the legislation.

"I went through the 115 e-mails in Town Hall," said Ms. Porter, "and they can be viewed there. They were almost all identical."

Only six of the letters were from Little Compton residents, she said. The organization behind the mass mailing, she said, appears to have been the Rhode Island Firearms Owners League (rifol.org).

One such e-mail came from Sean Brannigan, of North Providence. "The notion, that making schools gun free zones makes school children safer, is simply not true. To the contrary, it makes them helpless targets for deranged killers," Mr. Brannigan wrote.

"On the one hand, there is the false premise this resolution is based on, that CCPs are a danger in schools. On the other, there are the facts that CCPs have actually saved lives in schools and elsewhere."

"Facts and common sense make clear that banning CCPs from school grounds makes children less safe. In voting in favor of this resolution, the Town Council would be on the wrong side of this potentially life-and-death issue."

A Coalition "Fact Sheet" says CCP holders "can carry their weapons 'everywhere' including schools, but not in RI courthouses, airports and most government buildings." The state concealed carry law came into effect in 1990, says the Coalition.

"Currently," says the Coalition, any CCP holder "can carry a firearm on school grounds including the school, surrounding property, parking lots, and after school sporting events and gatherings without the knowledge of police or school officials."

"Concealed carry is prohibited in K-12 schools in 39 states," says the Coaliton's Fact Sheet.

The proposed legislation has received the support of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, and the Rhode Island Superintendents Association.


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