Highs and lows from last week: Non-riparian moorings, gun violence laws

Highs and lows from last week: Non-riparian moorings, gun violence laws

(High) If there was any ambiguity about the status of Westerly’s cherished non-riparian moorings before last week, a specialist with the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council dispelled them in his comments to the Town Council. The marine resources specialist, Kevin Cute, bluntly told the councilors that “all mooring fields and all of the moorings in town are unauthorized.” The council is reviewing a harbor management plan that has been in the works for years, and any changes to the status quo are sure to upset many longtime holders of moorings in Watch Hill Harbor and other places. Cute made it clear that the harbor “belongs to everyone in the state.” The Watch Hill Yacht Club is not allowed to manage public moorings, he said, but the state could confer that authority to the municipality if it has an approved management plan. Clearly, the council will have to make some difficult choices, and must contend with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recently enforced its “open to all” policy at the Wickford Harbor in North Kingstown. Cute presented several options, and all of them would open more moorings to the public. There is public pressure for wider access to Watch Hill, even for the installation of commercial fishing facilities. Whatever they do with this section of the management plan, the councilors, of course, must ensure fairness and protect the rights of Westerly residents. They also need to explore the potential economic consequences of  their actions, since the Watch Hill area, with its unique amenities, is the anchor of the town’s tax base.

(High) It seems probable that Rhode Island’s gun violence laws will be expanded this year. The measure likeliest to win passage could be “red flag” legislation that would allow a judge to take firearms away from persons whose threatening behavior suggests that they constitute an imminent danger. Such an “extreme risk protective order” would have an effect similar to a law enacted last year, which is intended to protect victims of domestic violence. Connecticut passed the first red flag law in 1999, and there is statistical evidence (posted in 2016 by Duke Law’s quarterly journal, Law and Contemporary Problems) that it has prevented some suicides. Could such a law have prevented the Parkland high school massacre? Perhaps — if the gunman’s family, or the police, or other authorities who were aware of his many warning signals, had acted on their knowledge. But they didn’t. And security personnel did not enter the school building to confront the shooter, either. We’re dealing with human nature. There was heroism at Parkland, and overriding fear. In practice, red flag laws (in the five states that have them) are most often invoked after mass shootings, when outrage over gun violence is at its peak. But, as The New York Times reported last week, “Most often, guns were removed from people not seen as threats to large groups or public gatherings, but as risks to themselves or to their families, or suffering from debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or alcoholism.” The proposal in Rhode Island has to be seen as one weapon in the arsenal against gun violence, and its use, as the authors of the Duke study recommend, “must be checked by appropriate due-process protections commensurate with abridging a constitutional right, including the opportunity for timely restoration of gun rights when risk recedes.”

(Low) This is an election year and the voters deserve to know where the candidates stand on the issues. You’d think that the Republicans’ presumptive front-runner for governor, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, backed by the NRA in the 2014 race, would have something to say about gun control. But no. On this, and on nearly all other matters, he has refused to respond to questions. Maybe he figures that he came close enough to Gov. Gina Raimondo, 14,471 votes, that his best strategy now is to hope that her various screw-ups and unpopular stands will depress her support this year, so he can coast along on name recognition. Last week, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan called him out on this blackout campaign. In a press release, she said that Fung, for years, “From tolls, to taxpayer funding of a new stadium, to the federal tax cuts, he either favors both sides, waits until the dust has settled or simply refuses to comment.” Morgan, of West Warwick, announced her candidacy last October. She accused Fung of “not allowing voters to know what they are getting if they vote for him. The alternative is that he simply has not taken the time to understand the issues and truly has no opinion. That’s not leadership we can trust.” By the way, Morgan, of West Warwick, told The Providence Journal that she was a believer in the right to bear arms, but supports gun violence restraining orders, “which allow people who see something and say something to do something.”

(Low) There was a rush to judgment in the case of state Sen. Nicholas Kettle, R-Coventry, who was railroaded into quitting the R.I. Senate after his indictment on charges of sex extortion and video voyeurism. The accusations are salacious, but he has not had his day in court. Kettle said that the Senate leaders, President Dominick Ruggerio and Sen. Dennis Algiere, in taking steps to expel him, “do not appear to understand the importance of due process as a cornerstone of our legal system.”


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