Cumberland Town Council unwilling to endorse ban on weapons bills

Cumberland Town Council unwilling to endorse ban on weapons bills

CUMBERLAND – Unexpectedly on Wednesday, the Cumberland Town Council defeated a resolution that would have endorsed a proposed ban on concealed weapons in schools except when carried by law enforcement personnel.

The resolution, introduced by President Craig Dwyer and unanimously supported by Police Chief John Desmarais, the Cumberland School Committee, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, and Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, drew only three of seven council votes after school board member Mark Fiorillo told councilors there's been a sharp increase in the number of accidental shootings since more teachers and other staff personnel nationwide began carrying weapons in schools.

The resolution was supporting pending General Assembly companion bills, H-7243 and S-2761, which cite a a study by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. that found nationwide - not necessarily in schools - there were 722 deaths in 544 concealed-carry shootings from May 2007 to February 2015. Just 16 of the killings were deemed to be lawful self-defense.

During discussion, Councilor Scott Schmitt commented, "I know this is an incredibly emotionally charged issue and my heart goes out to anyone affected." But he asked about the General Assembly bills, "How does this make schools safer?"

He went on to question whether someone working in the schools who has a valid permit might mean "we're almost safer is they carry than if they don't."

And he noted the bill's exception that allows for weapons during gun safety classes.

"For me, I've got some issues with it. I don't think it has enough teeth in it and I don't think it does what it's intended to do and that is to make our schools safer," Schmitt said.

Firoillo told councilors, "One of the comments you always hear when these kinds of bills or resolutions come up is it's not going to stop mass shootings, and that's correct," but he added that he believes it will decrease accidental shootings.

"And there's always the concern that a student will get access to a gun that is in the schools."

Said the school board member, "The only way to protect them is to not allow any guns in school. This is more about accidental shootings than anything else."

Voting against it were the majority: Councilors Peter Bradley, Art Lambi, Joshua Call-Fregeau, and Schmitt.

The unexpected defeat prompted President Dwyer to slam his gavel and angrily declare, "Now not only don't we have love, peace and joy but we're not going to restrict guns. Thank you gentlemen. Where are we going in this world?"

The love and peace comment was a reference to a request by Mayor Bill Murray last month that Cumberland recognize May 1 as "Global Love Day." Councilors Bradley, Call-Fregeau, Jim Scullin, and Schmitt opposed that measure as inappropriate for the Town Council .