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Senate President files bill to ban people from carrying guns on school grounds

The Harold M. Metts School Safety Act applies allows for exceptions for security and law enforcement.

Rhode Island Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, has submitted a bill that would only allow police officers or security officers to carry firearms on school grounds.
Rhode Island Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, has submitted a bill that would only allow police officers or security officers to carry firearms on school grounds.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio has introduced a bill to ban carrying concealed guns on school grounds.

The Harold M. Metts School Safety Act of 2021 — named for the former Providence senator who tried for years to pass this legislation — eliminates an exception in the state law on concealed carry firearms, making it clear that they may not be carried on school grounds. The only exceptions are police officers, retired officers, and those contracted to provide security.

“Guns do not belong in schools, and private citizens have no business bringing a gun on school property,” Ruggerio said in a statement Friday. “Citizens carrying firearms in schools increases risk, not safety. There have been dozens of examples of mishandling and accidental discharge of firearms in schools across our nation.”

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Though state law allows people with permits to carry concealed firearms on school grounds, many schools have adopted policies that ban people from carrying guns on campuses except for police officers. The state Board of Education issued a directive banning concealed firearms, except for police, in 2018.

The legislation applies to public and private elementary and secondary schools, as well as school buses. There are exceptions for activities such as firearm instruction and/or safety courses; government-sponsored military-related programs such as ROTC; interscholastic shooting and/or marksmanship events; military history and firearms collection courses; and the use of blank guns used in theatrical or athletic events.

State Representative Katherine S. Kazarian, an East Providence Democrat, is expected to file a companion bill in the House.

Despite his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, Ruggerio had vowed last month to file this legislation. He told the Globe at the time that he thought allowing people to carrying guns in school was “a recipe for disaster.”

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The Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition has vowed to defeat the bill, as it has for the past eight years. The gun-rights lobby group has argued for years that legislation effects law-abiding gun owners and that there have been no incidents involving people with the right to carry concealed firearms.

This time, though, gun-control advocates believe the legislation has a chance.

The Senate president is co-sponsoring the bill with the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cynthia Coyne, making it clear that the the legislation is a priority, said Linda Finn, the executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

On the House side, the gun-control advocates are hoping to benefit from the defeat of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello last year.

The new speaker of the House, Joseph Shekarchi of Warwick, has a “D” rating from the NRA and sees himself as a moderate Democrat.

“I think the reason [gun-control] bills weren’t getting votes in the house was the Speaker,” Finn said. “I feel like there has a been a huge shift in the leadership and they are much more receptive to getting the bills on the House floor to vote, and we’re hoping this will be one of those bills.”

Rhode Island has among the strictest gun laws in the country, but it is one of five states that does not prohibit people with conceal-carry permits from bringing guns onto school property. The coalition’s lawyer discovered that exception in the decades-old law, Finn said.

“When the law was written, nobody thought about carrying guns at schools,” she said.

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Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.