What I said to the RI House Judiciary committee about guns in schools
Thursday night, the RI House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on two pieces of gun legislation, H5861, which would close the loophole allowing concealed-carry permit holders to carry on school premises, and H5190, which would make permit renewal automatic without any requirement for requalification. Both measures were "held for further study," which is usually the way bills are quietly killed.
My 15-year-old son and I had signed up to testify, but at 7pm, with more than 30 people still on the list ahead of us, we had to leave. He made an argument, from a student perspective, about the hypocrisy of zero-tolerance for weapons (to the point of censoring t-shirts and language) while adults in the building could be armed. This morning, we both sent our testimony to all the members of the Judiciary Committee. Here's what I said...
I’m John McDaid, from Portsmouth, and I’m here as a parent and a member of the Humanists of Rhode Island to support bill H5861 and oppose H5190.
Here’s my nightmare. Imagine you’re picking up your kid at school. As you get buzzed in by the office, a guy standing in the lobby with you holds open the door for you. His jacket opens slightly and you see the distinctive slide of a Glock G42, what the NRA’s magazine calls an “an easy-to-carry, close-range defensive tool,” tucked into his waistband. He notices your gaze and says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a permit.” What could you do or say? Right now, in Rhode Island, the answer is “nothing.” You can ask him, “Are you a good guy with a gun or a bad guy with a gun?” You can see if he reminds you of Adam Lanza or Seung-Hui Cho, but in those tenths of a second you have to make a decision, how do you tell a friendly neighbor from a sociopath? You’re standing there, and a guy with a gun is about to enter your child’s school. What do you do?
Fortunately, the General Assembly, in its wisdom, understood the challenges of this situation when they wisely crafted 11-47-60 to ban concealed weapons on school grounds. All H5861 would do is reconcile the language of this existing legislation with the possibly conflicting language in 11-47-9 and 11-47-18.
There are two reasons I feel concealed carry is a problem on school property.
First, the mere presence of a loaded weapon creates the possibility for potentially fatal accidents and incidents. According to the CDC, in 2013, the last year for which data is available, there were 16,864 reportable unintentional gunshot injuries. That’s 46 firearm accidents every day. To pick a recent data point: just this Easter Sunday, a man in Altoona, PA shot himself in the leg during Mass when the trigger of his pistol caught in his pocket. Concealed weapons present a constant unmitigateable risk of unintended discharge. If this were to take place in a classroom, the results could be catastrophic. And the possibility of a child — either innocently or maliciously — using an improperly secured weapon is equally grim. These are unforced errors that can be avoided by maintaining gun-free schools.
My wife lost her 12-year-old cousin in a shooting accident — a couple of innocent kids looking at guns in a friend’s house. When our son was younger, we were reluctant to have him play at a friend’s house where we knew there were guns, because kids are curious and accidents do happen. Without H5861, parents are forced to send their children into a school environment with the same potential dangers.
Second, relying on permit holders be able to protect students and staff in a school shooting situation is, to put it bluntly, delusional. To get a concealed carry permit in Rhode Island, applicants only need to demonstrate minimum accuracy on a range (putting 30 rounds in a 14-inch target at 25 yards) every four years (It should go without saying that reducing the qualification requirement, as H5190 does, is a step in the wrong direction). There is no requirement that a permit holder have training in decision-making, real-world tactical scenarios, or even drawing from concealment. Nor, more to the point, how to de-escalate dangerous situations. In short, there is no evidence that permit holders would have *any* of the requisite training to deal with the complex, high-stress situation of an active shooter. Attached is a link to a video done by ABC News showing how average armed citizens were able to respond in a simulated school shooting situation. Spoiler: they all would have died.
If the General Assembly wants to do something to address school safety in crisis situations, I’d encourage you to investigate the ALICE program being used in Massachusetts and some Rhode Island communities. More guns is not the answer. I respectfully urge the committee to close this loophole and support H5861. Thank you for your consideration.