PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island officials have issued a ban on firearms in all public schools with the exception of those carried by law enforcement workers, a directive Gov. Gina Raimondo and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner say is designed to close a loophole in state law that allows individuals with concealed carry permits to bring guns to schools.
The ban was issued as an administrative order from Wagner to school districts throughout the state, meaning individuals would not face criminal charges if they were found in possession of a firearm in a school. Wagner said districts could take disciplinary action against employees for ignoring the ban.
Raimondo, a Democrat seeking re-election in November, and Wagner said they were taking action because state lawmakers did not approve legislation this year that would have banned guns in schools the same way they are prohibited in state offices or courthouses. They both urged the General Assembly to pass a gun ban in schools in 2019.
“We’ve taken action, but still, we need to do more,” Raimondo told reporters, highlighting funds in the budget that will assist schools in hiring resource officers and $10 million available to help districts make security upgrades.
Raimondo said she frequently talks to teachers, parents and students who continue to have safety concerns following the massacre in Parkland, Florida, in February that left 17 individuals dead. She acknowledged the ban won’t necessarily prevent another mass shooting incident, but she said it could prevent accidents.
Wagner issued a field memo to school superintendents informing them of the ban. He said Rhode Island is one of only four states that doesn’t have a ban on guns in schools or a requirement for a gun holder to notify school officials that they are carrying a weapon.
“It’s our job to protect kids and their teachers,” he said. “Inconsistencies among laws, regulations, and local policies and practices create confusion, producing the exact kind of unsafe environment the law is intended to prevent. As we start a new school year, this directive provides clarity, until such time that the underlying laws are reconciled.”
Four of Raimondo’s challengers in the campaign for governor quickly released statements criticizing the ban.
Republican Patricia Morgan questioned the constitutionality of the prohibition, but also suggested she has a more effective idea for making schools safer.
“I have been fighting to release the $23 million in remaining Google settlement funds to increase school safety,” Morgan said. “Back in April, Governor Raimondo referred to that $23 million as ‘a drop in the bucket.’ She talks about making schools safer, but when I proposed a commonsense solution, she was indifferent. School starts this week without any concrete action from Governor Raimondo.”
Independent candidate Joe Trillo, a former Republican state lawmaker, said the order “is a terrible mistake that could cost more student lives than she realizes.”
“The answer to combating a school shooter, is not to limit the number of guns in schools, but to allow in addition to police officers, resource officers and gun owners with valid concealed carry permits to carry firearms onto school grounds to serve as protection in the event of an unspeakable act by someone looking to kill,” he said.
Giovanni Feroce, another Republican candidate, accused Raimondo of setting “aside common sense in favor of moving our state to the extreme left.”
“She is intent on making Rhode Island an outlier for her extreme agenda,” he said. “Of course we would want licensed off-duty officers and other certified and qualified individuals to be armed as an added line of defense.”
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is also seeking the the Republican nomination for governor, accused Raimondo of “pandering” for votes.
“What all families want from their leaders is to address the heart of the matter, strengthening security around our schools and soft targets,” he said. “The governor’s administrative order is nothing more than political pandering without any backbone. Shortly, I’ll be rolling out my plan to strengthen safety measures in our schools, which I feel will do a better job at actually addressing all of our concerns.”
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Dan McGowan (email@example.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan