Featured Letter: Firearms on Block Island
To the Editor:
Discussions on all levels have abounded concerning firearms lately due to obvious reasons. I have been repeatedly asked about firearms on Block Island and what my professional opinion is. I gave this a great deal of thought over the past month or two and, in the process, attended a week-long training class focused on the Sandy Hook tragedy with Col. Stebbins of the Connecticut State Police leading the presentation, and becoming tearful at several points during his very emotional PowerPoint presentation. Col. Stebbins personally responded to Sandy Hook at the time of the tragic incident.
It is commonly known that I do not personally like firearms, and have seen more negative than positive coming from their use in my lifetime. I also understand that people, especially men, get very attached to whatever hobby they enjoy. With me it is guitars and I love my 1972 Fender Stratocaster that my father bought for me when I was 11 years old with the same zeal that is likely felt by a person who was handed down a firearm from his father. It is also true that law abiding citizens have the right to collect firearms. However, I do not believe that the drafters of the Second Amendment could have ever envisioned the various assault weapons that would be in the lawful possession of the citizenry hundreds of years later, as a result of their work. The firearms at that time required substantial time to load one shot, and a bit of luck to actually hit the intended target.
It is common knowledge that there are avid collectors on Block Island, some with dozens of all types of firearms and ammunition. It is known to me that there are more firearms here on Block Island than in other like communities. Our police department has seized numerous firearms throughout my tenure as chief, more so than I was ever involved in while working for two other police departments between 1981 and 2003. As a result of what is apparent to me, our department has had to spend a great deal of resources on urban assault rifles, ammunition, breaching tools, ballistic vests, and training. When I started working as a policeman years ago, I never would have imagined we would someday have to outfit our officers with such things, especially on such a beautiful little island. These are now realities.
In the past years there have been many dangerous incidents involving firearms here on Block Island ranging from a police chief being fired upon by a person with a rifle at close range while answering a call in a house, to a mentally deranged person coming to our police department with a 12-gauge shotgun, wearing a ski mask, and firing upon three officers at close range during the ordeal. There are many other incidents, some involving tragic deaths, too painful to some members of our community to list here.
A 2005 study on firearms revealed that more than 1.69 million children under 18 years of age are living in homes in the U.S. alongside loaded and unlocked firearms. A total of 15,000 people in the U.S. each year are treated for injuries resulting from unintentional discharges of firearms, along with about 1,000 deaths per year. On one recent day in the past three weeks there were 200 deaths or injuries resulting from the criminal use of firearms. It is established that youthful suicides are more common in families that have loaded weapons easily accessible.
Now, the focus of this letter: There are many things that are not going to change by resolutions or continuous and endless discussions. What needs to be done here on Block Island is simple and will dramatically increase the safety of our town as a whole with respect to gun violence if everyone cooperates.
If you are going to exercise your absolute right to be a collector of firearms on Block Island, please secure them properly with external trigger locks, keep the firearms locked, unloaded, and store the ammunition separately. Lock your houses properly when you are away to prevent a break in and the possibility of firearms ending up in the wrong hands. Do not leave loaded shotguns in your pick-up trucks.
If there are children in your household, caution them about firearms and make sure they cannot get access to them under any circumstances.
If you do these simple things, you will protect your loved ones and community. You will also be protected from liability in the event that one of your firearms is stolen resulting in injury. Federal laws immunize any person who uses a secure gun storage or safety device from a qualified civil liability action; which is defined as a suit resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a handgun by a third party.
Chief of Police