Today on Smith Hill, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association and a captain in the Rhode Island State Police are meeting with lawmakers for an informal session. They are coming at the request of Woonsocket Democrat Representative Lisa Badelli-Hunt. She says lawmakers need more information if they’re going to intelligently consider gun legislation this session.
Rhode Island Public Radio political analyst Scott MacKay joins afternoon host Dave Fallon to discuss the meeting and what it means for gun control measures in the state.
No word yet on how Rhode Island might address the growing debate about gun control and violence prevention. My colleague Ian Donnis and I have been covering the issue (see some related stories, below), and so far we know there's talk of proposing legislation (no details yet) and a vague working group of lawmakers and policymakers discussing the issues. Those issues probably include Rhode Island's participation in a national gun background check database and how to use mental health records when it comes to allowing firearms purchases.
US Attorney Peter Neronha is Rhode Island's top federal prosecutor. His office prosecutes about 40 or so gun-related cases each year, some of them with far stiffer sentences than state prosecutions. But Neronha says prosecutions are just one part of what it will take to reduce gun-related crime. He also questions the view among some in law enforcement that federal sentencing has a stronger deterrent effect in gun cases.
Law enforcement officials have tried without success for years to make Rhode Island’s gun laws more stringent. They say tougher laws would help to deter gun-related violence. Now, in the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the question remains whether Rhode Island will beef up its gun laws. For starters, gun control supporters will have to overcome powerful opposition from the National Rifle Association.
This week, our neighbors in Connecticut began hearings about mental health care in the state after the Newtown shooting. Lawmakers and a couple of task forces convened by Gov. Dannel Malloy are reviewing the state's mental health services and looking at the kinds of public policy and legal fixes that might make it better. Should we mandate outpatient treatments for the mentally ill? Can we truly assess someone's risk before it's too late? Should gun buyers face a mandatory mental health evaluation?
For once, Rhode Island politicians have a chance at being part of the solution. Even a small change on gun violence would resonate with voters.
As recently as the 2012 election campaigns, the issue of gun control had fallen off the political shelf. A Republican Party dominated by the states of the sunbelt and the Old Confederacy feverishly defended the rights of the gun lobby. Rueful Democrats, especially those in Red states, bowed cravenly to the gun constituency that was universally cited as the club that doomed Al Gore’s 2000 presidential aspirations.
Rhode Island Public Radio health care reporter joined afternoon host Dave Fallon in the studio to talk about what public health experts and legal scholars have to say about mental health records and the gun background check database. A transcript follows. You can listen to our feature story on Rhode Island's lack of participation in the National Instant Criminal Background Check, or NICS, database here.