NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — As a former member of the Rhode Island State Police and a recreational shooter and hunter, Narragansett Town Manager James Manni is very familiar with firearms.
That knowledge will be now be put to use as part of a major public policy discussion, as Gov. Gina Raimondo has named Manni co-chairman of the Rhode Island Safety Working Group. He will lead the group alongside Dr. Megan Ranney of Rhode Island Hospital and Alpert Medical School.
Manni said he was approached by the governor’s office about the role a few weeks ago. The group includes approximately 40 members from across the state, with other South County representatives, including North Kingstown Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger, Paul Bueno de Mesquita of the University of Rhode Island and Dean Hoxsie, former Narragansett police chief and current associate director at the Department of Environmental Protection.
“The governor asked me if I would be interested in going on that group, then she later asked if I’d be willing to co-chair the group,” Manni said. “I will be representing the municipal side of things, as a municipal leader, as a town manager. I would be filling that portion of it.”
He continued: “The other reason [I was asked to serve] is, obviously, I was a 31-year former law enforcement officer. So you have municipal leader, former law enforcement officer, and the fact that I shoot recreationally and I’m a hunter and I belong to the [National Rifle Association], that I would provide a good balance of looking at it from three different sides. Municipal leader, law enforcement officer and as a gun owner.”
Following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Raimondo established a statewide “red flag” policy by executive action in an effort to keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed to be a risk for violence. The General Assembly is currently considering a broader “red flag” law.
The working group is scheduled to meet for the first time during the week of April 22. According to a press release from the governor’s office, the group will meet monthly “to discuss and develop recommendations to counteract the gun violence epidemic.” It will also support the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium, which Raimondo established in February alongside the governors of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
“Not a day has passed since the heartbreaking shooting in Parkland that these seventeen students and teachers haven’t been on my mind. With Congress continuing to drag its feet, states need to step up and take action now to keep our communities safe,” Raimondo said in the release. “This task force represents a breadth of expertise on school safety, gun violence prevention and mental health, and I am confident that, together, we will chart a course toward a safer and more secure Rhode Island.”
Manni said the governor wanted a balance of viewpoints on the working group.
“It’s a very polarizing issue, and there’s people with very strong opinions on both sides of this, and I respect those opinions,” he said. “We’re going to be studying the laws and policies of the state, and we’re going to analyze to see if there’s anything that needs to be strengthened, amended or enacted. So we’re going to be doing a comprehensive study of where Rhode Island is now and where it should be.”
Manni said Rhode Island’s existing gun laws are working well, and the system locally is “not broken.”
“We’re just looking to see if there are areas that we can make it better, and if we missed any,” he said. “Are there any loopholes in our laws? We’re trying to prevent having to make tough decisions after a tragedy. We’re trying to do this with a clear mind, where we are going to protect the citizens of this state. We want to make these decisions and changes if needed now, before there is a tragedy.”
He added: “My promise to the governor yesterday was, we will go right down the middle of this. We’ll look right into this topic with no biases, and then we will make recommendations to her by the fall, and then she will be well-informed to make her decision on where to go with this.”
Manni said he asked the Town Council for approval to serve on the working group.
“The reason that they said yes is, this could help Narragansett,” he said. “We’re having our own discussions on where we’re at and where we’re going when it comes to school safety.”