PROVIDENCE, RI – Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed and Governor Gina M. Raimondo joined law enforcement officials, including Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, commander of the Rhode Island State Police, and advocates from the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, as well as representatives from the office of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, to discuss the latest efforts to effectively address gun violence and enhance school safety.

Since the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, there have been 142 school shootings at K-12 schools and colleges nationwide, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, and Rhode Island is just one of 11 states nationwide where a school shooting has not occurred since that time.  While Rhode Island has been spared such a large scale tragedy, there continues to be too many incidences of gun violence in the state.

During the event, the speakers noted that school administrators and law enforcement officials throughout Rhode Island are taking steps at the state and local level to implement comprehensive strategies to reduce gun violence, prepare for emergencies, and keep our children safe, but Congress must do its part too.

“Instead of just drilling for school lockdowns or trying to act like such events just ‘happen,’ as some have tried to do, Congress should take bipartisan, protective action to help prevent gun violence.  We as a society must not turn away from the mass-shootings we continue to see time and again in places like Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Sandy Hook, and at Virginia Tech.  And we can’t turn our backs on the gun violence that plagues our communities right here in Rhode Island.  The levels of gun violence we are seeing today is unacceptable.  But despite what the gun lobby may say, it is not somehow beyond societal or political intervention.  There are steps we can take.  At the federal level, I am working with my colleagues to pass new federal gun safety laws aimed at making current background checks stronger, closing loopholes to prevent unsuitable persons from acquiring firearms, and shutting down the pipeline of illegal guns,” said Senator Reed, who outlined several initiatives he is working on as a start to help prevent dangerous people from possessing firearms, including legislation that would close loopholes that allow people to purchase guns without having first passed a background check and efforts to strengthen background checks themselves.

“Gun violence is hurting our children and our communities, and we must commit ourselves to building safer neighborhoods and schools,” said Governor Raimondo. “Thanks to Senator Reed, Rhode Island is a leader in taking a stand to reduce gun violence.  And while there is still much more work to do, he is committed to continuing to champion ways to reach across the aisle and build coalitions to make our communities safer.”

“We applaud Senator Reed and Governor Raimondo for their steadfast leadership on common sense solutions for stemming violence in our schools and on our streets,” said Teny Gross, outgoing Executive Director of the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence.  “As the Institute continues to partner with community and law enforcement officials under interim executive director, PJ Fox, we look forward to working with state and federal officials to develop policies and programs that foster nonviolent solutions and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who might harm others.”

“Between 20 percent and 40 percent of all gun sales to individuals in this country are conducted without background checks.  Ten of thousands of those guns find their way to criminal and sometime mentally ill individuals.  Senator Jack Reed wants that to stop,” stated Jerry Belair, President of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.  “The NRA isn’t your daddy’s NRA.  It has become the marketing arm of the gun industry and a conduit of millions of dollars to grease the skids of the re-election campaigns of its supporters in Congress.  An A+ rating from the NRA should be worn as a badge of shame not a badge of honor.  There are ways to keep prohibited people from getting guns.  Ninety percent of Americans agree that one way is Universal Background Checks.  Senator Jack Reed should be commended for his leadership to require that all gun sales be subject to background checks.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics cites firearm-related deaths as one of the top three causes of death for American young people, and an average of more than 80 Americans die each day from firearms.

According to a Fatal Injury Data report released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there was a total of 33,636 firearm-related deaths throughout the country in 2013.  And the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes this is the fourth year in a row that gun deaths have increased due to easy access to firearms.  

During the event, Reed discussed the need to close loopholes that allow people to purchase guns without having first passed a background check.

This week, Time magazine noted that loopholes in existing law have allowed criminals and the mentally ill to purchase 55,887 guns: “the “Charleston loophole,” which allows for thousands of guns – 55,887 between 1998 and 2014 – to be sold to people with criminal records and mental illness, such as Dylan Roof.  How does that happen?  Individuals attempting to purchase a gun through a licensed dealer – rather than at a private show or unlicensed online – are subject to a criminal background check conducted by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  In spite of its name, however, the system does not always return an instant verdict on whether the purchaser can buy the firearm.  Since 1998, according to data from the FBI, federal and state governments have run 202 million background checks on prospective gun owners. Nine percent of these checks delay the sale.  If three business days pass without a verdict from the FBI, licensed dealers can sell the gun anyway – a provision known as a “default proceed.””

Reed concluded that there should be bipartisan support for tightening up the background check system and eliminating gaps to ensure that when a background check is done, it will effectively uncover dangerous individuals that should not get weapons.