- Providence Journal Staff Writer
Retired Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. facilitated the talk that had many points of view represented. About 25 people around the tables included other judges, public defenders, General Assembly members, a police chief, the state police, the Second Amendment Coalition, health advocates, elected officials, state department leaders and nonprofit organizations dedicated to nonviolence, domestic violence and Moms Demand Action.
"When I became governor, I never thought I would spend so much time ordering our flags at half mast on account of gun tragedies in this country, and we just did it again," Raimondo said, referring to last week's San Bernardino, Calif., shootings. "We spend entirely too much time extending our good wishes, sympathies, thoughts and our prayers to victims, and not enough time getting around the table and saying, 'What can we do?'"
Raimondo mentioned wanting to have such a discussion, and convening such a group, last October.
She continued, "What I know we can't do is nothing ... I am fully aware that the simplest, most obvious solutions will be met with great resistance, but we have to try."
The first half of the meeting discussed the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, which screens people buying firearms. Rhode Island began sending names of people deemed mentally incompetent to the system this year. The group talked about ways to improve compliance and if it was possible to flag individuals who purchased large volumes of ammunition.
Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, also said there are some abusers listed on protective orders who aren't put in the system — and should be, in her opinion.
The time was spent discussing a bill proposed, and not approved, last year by South Kingstown Rep. Teresa Tanzi and Barrington Sen. Cynthia Coyne that would have required people convicted of domestic violence crimes and subject to restraining orders (during the length of the order) to surrender their firearms.
Research from Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that has lobbied for gun-control bills, found that judges rarely required domestic violence suspects to turn in their firearms even when the alleged victims said there are firearms present. Of the 1,609 protective orders granted from 2012 to 2014, Rhode Island judges ordered the suspects to surrender firearms in just 5 percent of the cases.
"It's a bill intended to protect victims from their convicted abuser," said Tanzi. "It's not about gun rights."
The majority in the room — in the audience and at the tables — agreed and said they would support similar bills this coming session. They called it "common sense."
The only criticism seemed to come from Frank Saccocio, of the Second Amendment Coalition. He said Rhode Island is the safest state in the country when it comes to guns, and such legislation, if approved, could create more problems than help.
"Only 12 people were killed by firearms last year" in Rhode Island, Saccocio said, which caused members of the audience to snicker.
Countered Ana Novais, state associate director of health: "Even the small numbers are one too many."