OP-ED

What to do about gun violence?

Posted 7/28/21

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said the higher number of shootings in mostly poor parts of Providence is among his top concerns. Asked about how some major categories of crime have climbed, after mostly falling since the mid-1990s, Neronha

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OP-ED

What to do about gun violence?

Posted

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said the higher number of shootings in mostly poor parts of Providence is among his top concerns.

Asked about how some major categories of crime have climbed, after mostly falling since the mid-1990s, Neronha said a longer trendline is needed to analyze that. He added: “The reality is that most people who commit street crime involving gun violence are not good shooters, but they are putting a lot of bullets in the air and those bullets – the more you put in the air, the more the odds that you’re going to strike somebody. That concerns me a great deal.”

(Through early June, 31 people had been struck by gunfire, the ProJo has reported, an uptick from recent years.)

Speaking on Political Roundtable, Neronha said this concern underscores the need for legislation to prohibit large-capacity gun magazines.

“The reality is when we find somebody with a high-capacity magazine, it’s got 30 rounds and we know that they’re putting 22 rounds on the ground,” he said. “We may not be able to prove the shooting; the victims may not be cooperating with us, but if we can find that shooter with a 30-round magazine and charge him with that, then we’ve taken a step to take them off the street.”

In related news, Neronha brushed off concerns about Rhode Island’s handful of new gun laws. He said the measure banning people other than police or contracted security from bringing guns onto school grounds will make schools safer because, he said, civilian gun owners don’t undergo the same kind of training as police.

Regarding another concern from legal gun owners – that the new requirement for them to unload guns before driving onto school grounds could spark confusion – Neronha said, “The reality is this: we can all gin up scenarios where the worst possible thing could happen. I’ve been a prosecutor for years. Prosecutors know what a real case is and a real case isn’t, and so I don’t see a situation where someone would be caught in sort of that trap.”

RI’s big health care merger

AG Neronha said his office is reviewing antitrust and competitiveness concerns related to the proposal for a combined academic health system featuring Lifespan, Care New England and Brown University.

While supporters cite the proposal as an economic win for Rhode Island, and something far more preferable than an out-of-state entity buying up one of the state’s top hospital groups, Neronha said the conglomeration raises questions of monopoly power.

“Whenever potentially that much market share is in one place it could have a negative impact on the market, not just in terms of things like cost, but on accessibility and potentially quality,” the AG said on Roundtable.

Neronha said it’s too soon to say whether Lifespan or Care New England might have to shed one or more of their hospitals to win regulatory approval from the state and the Federal Trade Commission. On the question of whether the academic health system would raise costs for healthcare consumers, Neronha said it’s difficult to draw comparisons with the experience in other states.

These points notwithstanding, Neronha points to how he played hardball with Prospect Medical Holdings in vowing to view the academic health system proposal through a public-interest prism: “If there’s one takeaway that I want your listeners to take away from our conversation it’s that the office is really exercising our regulatory function very robustly. We did it in Prospect, we’re doing it here. We want to make sure that the decisions we make will be ones that will benefit the citizens of the state, the residents of the state, and will not lead us to a place two or three years down the road from now where unforeseen consequences cause us to regret the decisions that we’ve made.”

AOC’s Cranston connection

Would you believe that progressive icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is buying the merch for her new online store from a Rhode Island firm with close ties to Democrats? Yep.

Reuters reports that AOC’s new online store is being operated by Financial Innovations; the company also provides the merchandise. Ocasio-Cortez has paid the Cranston outfit more than $1.4 million just in the first six months of this year.

The company is now led by Paul McConnell, the brother of U.S. District Court Judge John J. “Jack” McConnell Jr., following the 2016 death of prominent Rhode Island Democrat Mark Weiner. According to one obit for Weiner, his firm “has been the official distributor for every Democratic National Convention since 1980, providing campaign merchandise such as T-shirts, buttons and more. The company also provided branded products for President Barack Obama’s campaigns in both 2008 and 2012, as well as for current candidate Hillary Clinton. Financial Innovations Inc. oversaw merchandise operations at the inaugural celebrations for Bill Clinton and Obama, and continues to provide special event items for high-profile accounts, including the White House and the Clinton Global Initiative.”

As to why AOC launched an online store, Reuters reports, “Ocasio-Cortez’s push into merchandise shows she is honing an already formidable fundraising operation and building her brand within the Democratic Party.”

Bonus RI angle on AOC

Sean Spicer, who grew up in the East Bay and famously served as White House press secretary under former President Trump, tweet-characterized AOC’s online store as a way of “using capitalism to push socialism.” AOC offered this response: “Not sure if you know this Sean, but transactions aren’t capitalism. Capitalism is a system that prioritizes profit at any & all human/enviro cost. But fwiw our shop is unionized, doesn’t operate for profit, & funds projects like free tutoring, food programs,& local organizing.”

COVID uncertainty

A few weeks ago, it was easy to think that the pandemic was mostly behind us, at least in Rhode Island. Now, though, infections are on rise, and it’s unclear where things are headed. During his regular news conference last week, Gov. Dan McKee said he considers Rhode Island to be in a good position, due to the relatively high rate of vaccination, and he downplayed the possibility of “moving backward” by restricting businesses or gatherings.

Progressive challenges loom for next year

With more than a year until Rhode Island’s September 2022 primary, one high-profile legislative race is already starting to smolder.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio of North Providence, 72, the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, got a scare in 2020 when progressive Democrat Lenny Cioe – although badly outspent – came within almost 10 points of toppling Ruggerio.

During a recent interview on Newsmakers on WPRI-TV, Ruggerio said he definitely plans to seek re-election to his Senate seat next year, and he attributed the closeness of the ’20 race to factors including the pandemic.

Ruggerio raised more than $160,000 in Q2, compared with just a few thousand dollars during the comparable period in ’20, bringing his campaign balance to about $230,000. Gearing up for a rematch, Cioe responded on Twitter, saying that Ruggerio’s big campaign funding advantage won’t stop him and that, “He is stone cold afraid of me.”

Neronha on police accountability

With communities of color expressing ongoing concerns about Providence police – including how the aftermath of a recent chase resulted in two officers being placed on paid suspension – AG Neronha said greater use of body cameras can build public confidence: “I think transparency is a big part of it. I think the body camera legislation that was pushed through will bring that kind of transparency statewide … As a prosecutor, I’ve always wanted one thing – just to know definitively what happened. Body cameras are a huge help in that.”

As the AG noted, body cam footage is not always released immediately after an incident (as in the recent Providence chase; an investigation is ongoing), but he said it ultimately will be available.

In related news, reported by our own John Bender, the AG’s office is reviewing a Providence incident from early July, and city officials announced plans to boost mental health support for emergency calls.

Who will represent the RI GOP?

The approach of the 2022 gubernatorial race is evident in how Gov. Dan McKee and one of his rival Democrats, Seth Magaziner, are trying to frame the early fundraising conversation.

Katie Nee from Magaziner’s campaign reports that he’s raised more than $250,000 in Q2, giving him a sizeable cash on hand advantage over McKee, with $1.5 million in the bank, compared with about half that much for the governor. According to a statement from McKee campaign coordinator Mike Trainor, “The campaign noted that a total of 613 donors contributed to the Governor’s campaign during the second quarter, 83% of which were Rhode Islanders, and for the fiscal year 60% were first time donors. In addition, donations were received from 38 of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns.”

There’s a long way to go on the Democratic side, obviously, with a field that includes Nellie Gorbea, Luis Daniel Munoz, and an expected Jorge Elorza. The biggest mystery remains who will represent the RI GOP. One of the brightest Republican prospects in the state, House Majority Leader Blake Filippi, has exhibited tepid public interest in a run, perhaps because he’s just 40 and would prefer to chase the seat when an incumbent is not in place.

One former GOP gubernatorial candidate, Ken Block, tweeted this view: “It is hard to see any path for RI GOP candidates for high office in the 2022 cycle. The Trump litmus test is a lose/lose here in RI. Embrace Trump and surely go down in flames in the general election/reject Trumpism and lose your primary and/or general due to lack of GOP votes.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at ripr.org. Follow him on Twitter@IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email delivery, visit www.thepublicsradio.org.

Donnis, politics

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