NEWPORT, RI—The Newport City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to support a pair of bills at the State House that would prohibit concealed carry permit holders from bringing guns into schools.
The vote followed the approval of a similar resolution by the Newport School Committee on Tuesday night and came after a lengthy and thoughtful debate about whether concealed weapons really make schools safer, or perhaps more dangerous.
Rhode Island is one of just a handful of states that doesn't already explicitly prohibit guns in schools except those carried by law enforcement.
More than one council member said that they thought long and hard about the topic before deciding to support the proposed legislation in the Rhode Island House and Senate, including Marco Camacho, who said that he originally was opposed but changed his mind after reviewing the concealed carry permit law.
Camacho said that he supports an exemption in the bills for off-duty police officers because the training they get for their jobs is extremely thorough. Civilians, on the other hand, do not have to demonstrate nearly as much to get a permit, Camacho said.
Making quick decisions when there are moving targets, reloading under pressure, malfunction drills are all part of the training police officers recieve, Camacho said. But "we need to be honest—parents and teachers aren't properly trained in public safety and are not deputized police officers."
In terms of the Second Amendment, Camacho said that like other Constitutional keystones, like freedom of the speech of press, there are limits. You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater and you can't print libelous stories in the newspaper without risking being sued, he said.
Councilor John Florez said there is an assumption that having guns makes one safer despite an "abundance of evidence it's quite contrary."
Florez cited a study that showed death rates increase sevenfold when guns are present. Seventy-five percent of all children murdered in the developed world are here in the United States.
Councilor Justin McLaughlin shared a similar viewpoint: "What's the good of guns in schools?" he asked. "We don't need guns, we need education in our schools. Schools should be gun-free zones unless there's a public safety officer for reasons of public safety."
Councilor Kate Leonard said that she is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and has her own concealed carry permit in three states. It was a difficult balancing act in her mind to ultimately support the resolution, though she said she had considerable reservations.
Leonard said that it seemed unfair that a special class of retired and off-duty police officers were getting an exemption. She also said that the horrific mass murders and school shootings over the years have more to do with mental illness than whether guns are allowed in schools or not.
But, she said, she is just as deeply concerned about the safety of children in schools and what happens during and after school. She worked in the Connecticut school system for 25 years and saw children killed "more often than I'd like."
It was a community gripped by gang violence, Leonard said.
Mayor Jeanne Marie Napolitano said that if guns are not allowed at the courthouse or the State House, then it only stands to reason that gun-free schools should follow suit.
"Supposedly they don't let you have [a concealed gun] over on the Navy base, why in God's name would we allow them in school with our youngsters," Napolitano said.
Council members noted that they got a barrage of emails from people opposed to the proposed legislation but many of the emails were the same message sent repeatedly.
Of the more than 100 emails on the issue only four were from actual Newport resident, Napolitano said.
One resident, David Eikland, told the council that he opposed the measure because "a gun free sign won't stop anyone from going into a school."
His main concern, he said, was that he loses the right to defend himself when he goes inside the school building to pick up his child.
Eikland also said that if the law passed, he would have to leave his gun in the car, which makes it susceptible to theft. There are no metal detectors and no armed guards at the school either, he said.
Camacho fired back by saying that the security at Newport schools is outstanding and recent actions by law enforcement in response to bomb threats proved it. "We do take active measures we can't talk about on the dais here," Camacho said. "The response from our police and first responders was second to none. If some bad guy out there thinks Newport is a soft target. . . think again."
"Think about the chaos that takes place at a time like that," the mayor said in reference to a school shooting. "Who could think straight? Right now we have teachers who look like kids. How is the police supposed to determine who is a perpetrator or is a teacher?"