PROVIDENCE – Police Chief Michael Kehoe of Newtown, Conn., who was a first responder when 20 children and six educators were slaughtered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in his community last December, warned Wednesday that, “The tragedies felt by Newtown and other communities can be repeated if affirmative action is not taken.”
Kehoe was the star witness at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a raft of gun control bills, many introduced at the request of Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin seeking to crack down on the types of weapons legally available in Rhode Island, the people who can legally possess them, and the penalties for those who possess illegal firearms or use them in the commission of a crime. There was also a bill for a comprehensive study of Rhode Island’s current gun laws, rated as the eighth strongest in the nation,
Kehoe made it clear that he believes ensuring public safety demands that we surrender some measure of freedom that Americans currently enjoy.
“We have become a society of entitlements,” Kehoe said. “Our laws and policies afford us an immense degree of satisfaction, privileges and freedoms many other societies do not have. However, when these freedoms are the cause of enormous pain Americans have felt over the past several years, with so many massacres, so many indiscriminate murders within our cities, that this is a time to sacrifice portions of these entitlements to change the culture of our society.
“All too often,” the chief noted, “society’s answer to conflict and uncertainty is to be violent. The military style weapons, general gun use in urban areas, neighborhoods disputes gone bad, various violence-related shows and games and families unable to cope and understand the complexities of raising healthy families, these factors help breed a culture of violence.
“We need to do as much as possible,” Kehoe urged, “to reduce the easy access to weapons of mass murder. I believe all levels of government must strengthen the prohibition of military assault weapons that many of our citizens enjoy legally, without harm to our society. This sacrifice is necessary and warranted.”
With military style weapons like the AR-15s used in the Sandy Hook killings, Kehoe said, “they are made to have the most severe amount of impact and damage to a person’s body. When struck by a bullet from these weapons, the injuries to persons are severe and catastrophic, most times leading to death if struck in the major areas of the body.
“The mass murder at Newtown was officially carried out because of the AR-15 and the clips used, which held 30 rounds of .223 ammunition,: Kehoe asserted, adding that when a bullet from a gun like that enters the body, “it tumbles, causing it to fragment into two or more pieces, these fragments zig-zag throughout the body. An entrance wound in the shoulder could exit in the middle of the spine” . A typical entrance wound is the size of a pencil, while the exit wound can be the size of a fist.”
Kehoe contends that “you really need to limit large capacity ammunition clips. They may serve a purpose on gun ranges but have no rational, common sense need in protecting ourselves.”
The hearing on the gun control bills drew hundreds to the Statehouse on Wednesday, According to Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Edith Ajello, about 324 people had signed up to testify on one or more of the measures. People watching the proceedings on television in the overflow area on the first floor could clearly be heard cheering up in the third-floor hearing room when they agreed with something a witness said.
The bills being heard would, among other things, ban assault weapons and large capacity ammunition clips; make it illegal for minors to possess a weapon unless they are accompanied by an adult and are hunting, at a shooting range, or participating in a ceremony; ban the possession of weapons that have the serial number altered or obliterated; and to deal with people who have a record of mental health treatment and want to own a gun.
Rep. Michael Chippendale, a Republican whose district covers parts of Glocester, Foster and Coventry told the committee, that the bills under consideration “would not have prevented” an incident such as the Sandy Hook shootings. “As the chief (Kehoe) pointed out, the lunatic, Adam Lanza, did not legally possess that firearm. Although it was legally purchased, he should never have had access to it.”
Chippendale said the prohibition of military style firearms “is to only directly weaken the 2nd Amendment.” The intent of the 2nd amendment, he said, “was not about hunting, or plinking at the range, it was to always keep the citizenry in a position to protect themselves, their families, their state, their country from attacks or enemies foreign or domestic.”
Addressing the criticism by gun control proponents that the 2nd Amendment was written at a time when muskets were the weapons of choice, Chippendale said, “Were the founders to have AR-15s, they certainly would have meant AR-15s.”