No vote, but sides taken on guns in schools

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Monday’s City Council meeting turned into a debate whether people with concealed carry permits should be allowed to carry firearms in schools, which Cranston law currently allows.

Councilman John Lanni Jr. once again brought up the resolution to ban concealed carry permits in Cranston schools to effectively make them gun-free zones, although the council has already voted against the resolution. This time, Councilman Lanni used the meeting to discuss a resolution “urging the General Assembly to pass legislation banning guns in schools.”

Residents chimed in from three angles: the council should vote to ban guns in schools; the council should vote down this resolution; and the council just needs to make a decision after the city’s been discussing this for “over 30 years,” according to one resident.

There were representatives from two opposing groups in the council chambers. Donned in matching orange shirts were the members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, outnumbering the members of the 2nd Amendment Coalition, who wore designed yellow t-shirts and were seated on the opposite side of the public seating area.

Those in favor of banning guns in schools for people with concealed carry permits said that guns have no reason being in schools for anyone other than police officers, and are more dangerous than they are safe.

Cranston resident Ramsay Davis urged the council to vote to ban guns because, he said, 16.3 million people have a concealed carry permit in the United States and there shouldn’t be anyone other than police with handguns in school. He said that when he was a teacher years ago one of the guidance counselors used a gun to intimidate one of the students, which has stuck with him since.

Lisa Pagano, who has a freshman in the Cranston school system, said that “guns should be removed from the equation” in schools, telling the council about her brother being murdered by a deranged former police officer years ago.

Suzanne Arena, a Cranston resident opposed to the current legislation, acknowledged that this won’t eliminate gun attacks in school, but would add sentencing time to people who carried out these attacks in gun-free school zones. Forty-three states already have this legislation, she said, and police would still be able to carry guns in schools even if it was passed.

“This is not about feel-good legislation,” added Thomas Wojick. “It’s about prevention, public safety, and the safety of children. The people who run the schools [school committee] are all for this.”

Wojick said that the council needs to “have some courage” and “do their job” in voting on this bill, since the discussion has been going on for so many years but nothing has changed. He also took off his orange shirt at the podium because he didn’t want this to become, as he called it “tribal warfare” between the opposing groups.

Many of the coalition against gun violence were former school employees or currently have kids in Cranston schools, they said. Councilman Lanni himself has a granddaughter that he frequently picks up from school.

The 2nd amendment defenders, on the other side, told the council that banning guns in schools was “johnny feel-good legislation” and doesn’t really change anything.

“Gun-free zones do not add protection,” said Mike O’Neill, a Warwick resident present at the meeting who referenced the Orlando nightclub shooting, which was in a “gun-free” zone.

Frank Sococcio added that the same gun-free zones failed during the Sandy Hook shooting because nobody was there with a firearm to protect the kids.

“This is not aimed at criminals,” he said. “This resolution is going after law-abiding citizens.”

Steven Walker told the council that this infringes on the second amendment rights of Cranston citizens more than anything else and children are safer from a potential attack if there is someone carrying a gun in the school.

Currently, people with concealed carry permits are allowed to possess firearms in Cranston schools and during school events without acknowledging it to anyone.

The council won’t be changing this law anytime soon, per a recent vote on a prior resolution, but Cranston residents from both sides of the argument are continuing to voice their opinions on the issue so eventually something might be set in stone regarding the law.

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