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Friday, January 23, 2015

RI is one of only 5 states where people may bring guns into schools without the knowledge of police or school officials

The law seems quite clear when RIGL 11-47-60 (a) states that, “No person shall have in his or her possession any kind of firearm or other weapons on school grounds.” 

But there is a curious exception. 

Under RIGL 11-47-11 it is stated that a person with a concealed carry permit (CCP) may carry their weapon “everywhere.” Presumably, this means schools.

Which law takes precedence?

Attorney Julia Wyman with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) asked the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office and the Rhode Island Department of Education for clarification, but neither party could “figure out which law prevails,” she said.

The Department of Education has no regulatory authority, and therefore does not have the power to decide on this issue. As a result, legislation is going to be introduced to the General Assembly this year that seeks to clear up any ambiguity in the law, banning weapons from schools, even for those with a CCP.

As it stands now, anyone with a concealed carry permit may bring weapons into schools.

Rhode Island is one of only 18 states that allow guns to be brought in schools, according to a report by NBC News last year. Most of the 18 states on the list require that school officials give permission to bring the weapons into the schools, leaving Rhode Island one of only 5 states in which people may bring guns into schools without the knowledge of police or school officials.

The danger is obvious. In September of last year a teacher in Utah shot herself in the leg when her weapon discharged in class. In Idaho a “state university instructor was wounded in the foot after a concealed handgun in the person’s pocket discharged during a chemistry lab session with students in the room.” In each case, say news reports, the teachers had concealed carry permits.

Though some may argue that since Newtown, some teachers should be armed in the event that children need to be protected from intruders, depending on randomly armed, untrained teachers with CCPs is not a policy. Good policy needs to be vetted and debated so that the full implications might be considered. Policies such as this need to be done right and can’t simply be instituted by taking advantage of defects in a law written decades ago.

The General Assembly has an opportunity to correct this oversight, and should do so this year.

Steve Ahlquist is a writer, artist and current president of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member. His photos and video are usable under the Creative Commons license. Free to share with credit.

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"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel