2013-09-26 / News

Rep. Ruggiero will chair state panel on gun safety

As the nation reels from another mass shooting, the first appointments have been made to a legislative task force created earlier this year to address ways for Rhode Island to balance firearms safety and behavioral health.

Created by legislation sponsored by Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey and Rep. Deb Ruggiero of Jamestown, the task force was introduced this year to address gun safety following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Last week, another tragedy involving firearms took place. A lone gunman fatally shot 12 people inside the Washington Navy Yard, initially using a shotgun and then a Beretta 9 mm that he took from a victim, who was a security officer.

The 20-member task force will determine whether residents with behavioral health problems should own guns. The panel will conduct a review of current law and make recommendations on legislation to improve public safety by developing a more comprehensive approach addressing the nexus between behavioral health and firearms safety.

Ruggiero and Cool Rumsey were appointed co-chairwomen. Also appointed to the task force by Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed and House Speaker Gordon Fox were two senators, two representatives, two leading members of local health organizations, and two members of the Federated Rhode Island Sportsmen’s Club. Three additional members will be appointed by the governor. One of Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s choices is expected to be a third member of the sportsmen’s club.

Also on the task force are the attorney general, the state court administrator and the directors of the state Public Safety, Environmental Management, and Behavioral Healthcare departments. Rounding out the task force will be the president of the Police Chiefs Association and the state’s mental health advocate.

The legislation originally stipulated the task force to have its first report by the new year. Ruggiero and Cool Rumsey, however, have indicated they expect the deadline to be extended.

“Balancing public safety with individual rights, especially with respect to those with a history of behavioral health issues, is a very delicate issue that deserves thoughtful examination,” said Ruggiero. “While a behavioral health history is by no means an indication that a person is going to do something violent if they have a gun, we need to carefully consider whether our laws should have some means of preventing gun violence by those who do show signs of violent tendencies.”

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