Carol Anne Costa: Money, Guns + Lawmakers

Thursday, April 25, 2013


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"I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun control–it's just common sense. What matters to me is doing the right thing, and I think this is the right thing." - Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pennsylvania)

If this sentiment could have only directed the gun reform debate to a rational conversation void of money laden threats and “not so brave” lawmakers, we all would have benefited. LaSalle Academy alum and Pennsylvania Senator, Pat Toomey, and Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) together forged a bi-partisan piece of gun legislation expanding background checks, by most accounts a moderate and palatable step ahead in the ongoing gun reform efforts. The bill headed to the floor based on a 68-31 vote to simply get to a debate and vote. What happened next was, in my opinion, bewildering and atrocious when the measure failed as one by one previously amenable Senators, coerced by threats of NRA scoring, jumped ship. It is no secret that political perils loomed on both sides of the aisle. But, if the faces of the 20 beautiful babies, 6 brave teachers and the courage and straightforward lobbying of the Sandy Hook families did not evoke political courage, I shudder to think of what will.

This national conversation is enormously important to the Newtown families, all victims of gun violence (3530+ since Newtown, according to this Slate interactive map), responsible gun owners, and every American. The 2nd Amendment, mental health tracking, violent movies, bloody video games, bullying, access to high capacity weapons, drums and clips, armor piercing ammo, and plain old gun violence in this nation is frankly in the crosshairs. How do we move forward?

Stop the ranting

A first step would be to stop the ranting, riling and raving. Wayne Lapierre and the NRA’s, “we won’t budge on anything” position which is so adored on the far right and some on the left looking to ban everything but Nerf guns approach, is taking up most of the air in the room and they are merely screaming past each other. I was so hopeful that the bi-partisan Toomey/Manchin bill expanding background checks would have provided a first step on a productive journey toward honest moderation of gun laws that would have a real impact on the streets. Alas it was not to be, my hopes were dashed by a Congress saturated in money, lobbyists, and elected officials who flee from the will of 90% of the American public who favor expanded background checks. Poll numbers in even the most conservative districts nationwide also reflect that level of support for background checks. The loads of money, primary and NRA score promises being thrown into the process in and of itself holds hostage the way to real reform. And, yes we need reform on guns, on mental health, on high capacity weapons and clips, as well as the culture of violence embodied in the headlines we read each and every day. If you disagree with the need for reform take a look at video from the FBI’s most-wanted Al Qaeda terrorist, American-born Adam Gadahn, on the gun show background check loophole.

Whispers of the NRA of yesteryear…

As much as I abhor most of the talking points of NRA 2013, sadly, what gets lost in their divisive language and warnings of gun seizures is some bona fide sensibility including; tangible enforcement of existing gun laws and firearms education. These positions contain equitable, practical and widely held ideas which provide the NRA’s strongest arguments. NRA 2013 is not my dad’s NRA and if he were here, I am pretty sure he would side with the majority of NRA members who favor expanded background checks, prohibition of high capacity magazines and even banning assault weapons. Still the Herculean efforts of Toomey and Manchin which embrace those values could not be overcome by the fear instilled in lawmakers to make progress toward real gun sense. Guns are woven into the fabric of this nation, but what’s been absent is education. The NRA of yesteryear was the organization that provided education and encouragement of good and responsible gun ownership; I yearn for the NRA of my youth. As a gun owner and trap shooter since my 11th birthday, with the gift a Remington 20 gauge, I feel staunchly that what’s missing in this discussion is the true value of weapons instruction and how that leads to responsible gun ownership. It just makes for good gun citizens.NRA 2013 seems to have traded those values for hard right alliances based on many mistruths and scare tactics.

Meanwhile back in RI...

Do we need more gun laws, smarter laws or better enforcement? Currently, there exist approximately 62 weapons laws on the books in the state of Rhode Island embodied in Chapter 11- 47 of the Rhode Island General Laws (RIGL). One that jumped off the page for me was: 11-47-41 Government firearm registration prohibited. This should ease the minds of those concerned about registration of guns. Rhode Island is recognized as having very strict gun laws. A review of section 11-47 reveals a laundry list of weapons legislation which on its face seems thorough, broad yet somewhat happenstance. This begs the questions: How do the existing laws interface with newly proposed legislation package, and will these proposed new laws in fact accomplish the chore of reducing gun violence, while increasing gun education and actually getting guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill? I defer to State Police Superintendent, Col. Steven O’Donnell and many of RI‘s Police Chiefs who helped to craft the newly proposed package. Men and women in uniform are on the front lines of this battle and if these stakeholders are at the table, the new gun package has my undivided attention. I am inclined to think the current laws as they exist need bolstering, reworking and updating, as weapons, bullets and street, drug and gang violence change so rapidly. At the same time we must, as a state fully engage in the discussions of the newly proposed laws and impact on the laws currently on the books. I am confident the General Assembly is eager to hear from the citizenry.The people of RI should take a page from the Newtown families, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, as they provide a model in activism, civics and the value of dialogue with elected officials. Let us hold a debate at the General Assembly that produces healthy discussion, facts, level heads and ultimately good enforceable law.

Another Committee? Tanzi’s idea makes sense

Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) has introduced a bill to create a task force on guns safety and gun legislation. The bill proposes the creation of TheTask Force on Firearms Statutes to review existing gun laws and make recommendations on any changes necessary. The bill is H-5995 and, while I am not a big fan of more committees this one will move to review the myriad of gun legislation and hopefully create better laws and stronger enforcement of existing ones. If effective this would be a very good thing.

Gun law wish list

If I were given a magic wand to create common sense gun reform, my incantation would accomplish several objectives: full and comprehensive background checks, limits on magazine capacity, assault weapons ban, shut down the gun show loophole, huge penalties for straw purchasers and trafficking, and fair mental health record keeping, stronger ammunition regulation, it would allow for responsible shot gun, and rifle sales for folks in the suburban and rural communities and have a very big education mandate. In addition any good bill would contain a disclosure provision for parents of small children with guns in the home. Additionally, it would provide for a hard look at the desensitization of our young boys (61 of the 62 of the mass killings in the past 30 years was committed by boys or men). As I see it, these are valuable imperatives of what I hope to be a cultural shift that reconciles Americans love for guns, the 2nd Amendment with the desperate need for a common sense restructure of weapons legislation. But, I don’t have a magic wand so much hard work lies ahead.


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A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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