Gun safety task force begins work - News, Weather and Classifieds for Southern New England

Gun safety task force begins work

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A Rhode Island legislative commission began looking at ways Thursday to balance the Second Amendment with a desire to keep guns out of the hands of the severely mentally ill.

The Firearms Safety Task Force was created by lawmakers to review current laws and study policies on the use of mental health records in gun background checks. Rhode Island currently does not share mental health records — such as a list of people committed by a court to a mental health facility — with the national background check system.

The commission includes lawmakers, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and gun rights advocates. Following the panel's first meeting Thursday members said they hope to strike a careful balance between gun rights and public safety.

Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, said that while some people with severe mental illnesses could be a danger to themselves or others, he doesn't want the state to go too far by denying Second Amendment rights to the many people who struggle with more common illnesses like depression or anxiety.

"These are the things we're going to have to hash out," Chippendale said. "Where should the lines be drawn?"

Legislation to create the commission won widespread support from lawmakers on both sides of the larger gun control debate.

The commission's co-chairwoman, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, said she wants to ensure that any new policies don't discourage people from getting help because of fears that they would lose the right to own a gun.

Issues involving medical privacy must also be considered when crafting rules about the use of mental health records and firearm background checks, according to commission member Craig Stenning, director of the state's Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

The commission is set to report its findings to the General Assembly in January.

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