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Gun Safety

There is no one measure, or even set of measures, which will solve the gun violence, and mass-shooting, problem faced by this country. But there are some things we can do to make progress, while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Some require action on the national level, and others on the state level. Some require legislation and some do not. We may not be able to move forward with all of them. But we ought to be able to agree to move forward with some of them. In no particular order, they include:

1) Background checks should be required for every firearms transaction, without exception. Accordingly, the “gun show/private sale” loophole should be closed. This is a national issue.

2) No one should receive a firearm he or she has purchased until the FBI background check is completed. Current law requires that check to be completed within 72 hours, and absent an additional waiting period required under state law (Rhode Island’s is seven days), if the background check is not completed, the purchaser typically receives the firearm. If the FBI eventually concludes that the purchaser is barred from possessing a firearm – a “delayed denial” – federal and/or state and local law enforcement has to track down and retrieve that firearm. It has been reported that there were over 4000 such delayed denials in 2016. At a minimum, the FBI needs to commit the requisite level of resources to complete those background checks within 72 hours.

3) The language of all of Rhode Island’s state restraining orders (they come in many forms in the state’s various courts) should be reviewed and revised so that they are consistent with the federal statute barring persons subject to a domestic violence restraining order from purchasing and possessing a firearm. If the language of the state restraining order does not match the federal statute, it may not be a “restraining order” under federal law, and therefore may not preclude a person from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

4) All mental health information which under federal law would prohibit a person from purchasing or possessing a firearm must be sent to the FBI for inclusion in the background check system.

5) We should encourage, assist and provide clear guidance to physicians, as in Massachusetts, who wish to counsel patients about firearms safety, including in the home.

6) Rhode Island should consider enacting a “red flag” law, which allows a judge to temporarily remove firearms from persons deemed a threat to themselves or to others, with the appropriate due process and procedural safeguards. Such laws exist in Connecticut, Indiana, Washington, Oregon and California, and are under consideration elsewhere.

7) I support restricting the carrying of firearms on school property to police officers, as they have the requisite training and have undergone the appropriate background and other checks to ensure that they act appropriately and safely.

8) I support limiting the number of rounds a magazine can hold to ten. Every additional second that it takes for a shooter to reload is a second during which the shooter may be eliminated as a threat or one or more lives may otherwise be saved.

9) Rhode Island should pass legislation banning “bump stocks”, which allow semi-automatic firearms to function as automatic or nearly automatic firearms.

10) I support prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons of a style like the AR-15 (possession of fully automatic firearms by the public generally is already unlawful), at least in part because the characteristics of such weapons enable a shooter to fire more accurately, particularly at distance, and because their typical rounds cause more damage upon striking the body. The particular details of such a ban, including the weapons included and the characteristics of such weapons, are important to consider (for example, Massachusetts’ and Connecticut’s are not exactly alike), and we should recognize that every semi-automatic weapon ban passed anywhere, including the long expired federal ban, which I enforced as an Assistant United States Attorney and which has recently been re-introduced in Congress, does not ban those already in circulation.

This is why taking a multifaceted approach to gun safety is so important. There is no one measure which will keep our children and families safe. And we have to remember that in addition to mass shootings, we need to address urban violence, domestic violence, and suicides involving firearms, which collectively take the lives of far too many Americans. This is a broad, far-ranging conversation, which should lead to a comprehensive plan of action.