PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung said Monday he opposes a state-level ban on “assault weapons” and has concerns about the proposed “red flag” bill to disarm some individuals, offering his first extended comments on guns since the Florida school shooting.
Fung, the four-term Cranston mayor, spoke as the tragedy appears to be giving firearms restrictions new momentum at the State House. A group of Democratic lawmakers and gun-control advocates have scheduled a news conference Tuesday to unveil a bill for a statewide ban on semi-automatic rifles that opponents classify as assault weapons. It would also ban high-capacity magazines.
Fung made clear he opposes such a measure.
“We have to balance the rights of law-abiding citizens who comply with the law, and protect their rights to have firearms,” he told Eyewitness News. “I don’t believe that an outright ban on particular types of firearms – you keep hearing the words, oh, ‘military-style weapons.’ But military weapons are already banned from civilian possession currently.”
“We can’t focus on the cosmetics of a firearm, or what’s in a firearm with the magazines,” Fung continued. “The bottom line for me is, you have a semi-automatic weapon; it’s not a fully automatic weapon like what you see in the military. I wouldn’t support any kind of limitations on semi-automatic weapons.”
“We’ve got to focus once again on the person behind the firearm who intends to cause harm, particularly making sure that those with serious mental health issues as well as criminals who could care less about the law can’t get access to a firearm and cause damage,” he added.
Fung spoke on the same day Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, whom he hopes to unseat in November, signed an executive order instituting a limited “red flag” policy in Rhode Island that directs law enforcement to do more to stop potential mass shooters. The executive order is only a temporary step as Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and other lawmakers move quickly to pass a “red flag” bill that would let police disarm individuals deemed to pose a threat.
However, Fung said that while he agrees with the need to keep guns away from “individuals with serious mental health issues,” he thinks the legislation introduced Friday is too broad and does not protect due process for gun owners.
“Most importantly, there has to be some kind of trained medical professional in that process that provides that opinion, that solidifies that opinion and observations, and not just have it based on the sole observations of an officer at one point in time,” Fung said.
“I think that a lot has to be fleshed out” on the red flag bill, he added.
(The top law-enforcement officer in Fung’s city, Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist, backed the executive order on Monday. In a statement distributed by Raimondo’s office, Winquist said it “provides law enforcement with a valuable tool in preventing individuals who clearly exhibit a danger to the public from possessing and acquiring firearms, while balancing the constitutional right to bear arms.”)
Fung was the National Rifle Association’s endorsed candidate for governor in 2014, and he indicated Monday he would welcome the NRA’s support again this year. “My positions are my positions, and people support me because of my positions,” he said. “I also haven’t hidden this: I do shoot recreationally. And if different groups, different individuals, want to support me, I’m proud to take their support.”
On school safety, Fung said Cranston’s schools have taken multiple steps to ensure the security of facilities in the city and are reviewing whether more can be done. He also said he is looking at whether retired police officers can be brought back to provide additional security at city schools.
However, Fung said he disagrees with President Trump’s suggestion that more teachers should carry guns to defend their students against potential shooters. “Teachers belong in our classrooms teaching our students,” he said. “Let’s leave the security and safety of our students to the professionals, to our law-enforcement officers or our private security officials.”
Fung said he thinks state lawmakers “should definitely take a look” at passing a so-called “concealed-carry reciprocity” bill that would allow individuals who receive concealed-carry permits in other states to carry a weapon in Rhode Island, as well. And he said he supports a measure pending in Congress that would enhance reporting of individuals with mental-health problems to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Fung shied away from a proposal by state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, his fellow Republican, to levy a new 10% tax on violent video games that would fund school counseling, saying, “Ultimately, I’m not a tax person.” But he said Nardolillo was right to look at broader cultural influences that could be making people more violent.
Fung faces two opponents in the Republican primary, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan and businessman Giovanni Feroce. The winner is expected to face Raimondo, as well as independents Joseph Trillo and Luis Daniel Muñoz and Moderate Party Chairman Bill Gilbert, in the November election.
Morgan said last week she remains undecided on the proposed “Red Flag” law, though she sees the argument. “Responsible, law-abiding gun owners should not have their constitutional rights stripped away,” she said. “Instead, we need to provide law enforcement, teachers, relatives and classmates with the tools to pinpoint individuals who are exhibiting troubling signs of possible gun violence.”
In a statement last week, Trillo said he supports raising the legal age to buy a gun to 21 unless permission is granted by a police department; increasing the stringency of background checks; requiring more comprehensive mental health evaluations; and creating a special concealed-carry permit for schools that trained individuals can receive.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook