Gun law violators, not guns, should be our focus

To the editor:

In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the General Assembly leadership joined with Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and law enforcement officials to introduce a package of gun legislation, including several bills that seek to strengthen existing laws dealing with firearms violations.

Since the introduction of those bills, the House Committee on Judiciary, on which I serve, has held a lengthy hearing. Over the course of about eight hours, many people testified on the various bills. There was clearly a great assortment of opinions, from strong support to strong opposition.

I am writing to share with my constituents my personal perspective on this issue. As was the case with many people with whom I have spoken, the senseless shootings at the Newtown elementary school made me incredibly sad. Gun violence in our nation, the daily loss of innocent lives, the toll this all puts on families and communities is a serious matter that demands attention.

I am not convinced, however, that some of the legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year presents the best means to address the problem. Because of Newtown, and other all-too-many recent highly publicized shooting and killing rampages, I understand the desire to act, to try to better protect our citizens. As someone who has spent more than 25 years in law enforcement, I understand the commitment to serve and protect.

Like many, I firmly believe in protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms and not doing anything that could infringe upon that right. I make that statement as am American citizen and as a public official who has sworn to uphold our constitution, but I am not a member of the NRA or any other gun organization.

I also support tougher laws on gun crimes, and I support putting resource officers back into the schools and in training and arming college police officers.

I think we must be careful if we are going to act on any gun legislation to take a steady and rational approach, and not a knee-jerk reaction, to the issue. Increasing penalties for various gun violations – stealing a firearm, carrying and using a stolen firearm in the commission of a crime, etc. – is a message I believe we need to send to individuals who are not law-abiding citizens exercising their right to own a weapon.

Back in the 1980s, when we had a severe problem with drunk driving, we didn’t ban alcohol or limit individuals’ access to certain types of alcohol. We got tougher on the drunk driving laws. We implemented heftier penalties.

It was also about that same time when speeding was resulting in many traffic fatalities. We lowered the speed limit and got tougher on speeding fines. The federal government went so far as to provide grants to police departments around the nation to help crack down on speeders. All those actions helped reduce speeding and helped to cut the highway fatality rate. We did not accomplish that by outlawing cars that went too fast.

We need laws that address the core problems of gun violence, not laws that impinge on the rights of law-abiding citizens. If we are going to consider any gun legislation this General Assembly session, it is my hope that those bills do not only address guns, but rather gun crimes and criminals with guns.

Rep/ Dennis M. Canario

Democratic state representative from District 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton. 

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