Governors of four states create gun safety coalition

Saying they can't wait for the federal government to take action, governors from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island announced on Thursday that they are forming a coalition to collaborate as a region to prevent gun violence.

The governors signed a memorandum of understanding to create a regional task force, which will comprise law enforcement and intelligence officials, to trace and intercept illegal guns. The agreement further calls on the states to step up efforts to share information with one another and develop a coordinated plan to use their law enforcement resources to respond to threats of mass gun violence. The states also are pursuing a Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium.

"Let's work across our borders," Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said during the governors' conference call with reporters on Thursday. "Let's not just advocate for better laws in our own state, but advocate for better laws in our region. Let's not just try to make our borders as safe as possible, let's try to make our region as safe as possible."

Malloy said they are inviting other governors to also join the "States for Gun Safety" coalition.

New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy said the governors have been working on the effort for at least a year and, while it's not a reaction to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, they are accelerating their efforts in light of the tragedy. He said they are taking the step in the context of inaction by Congress.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, a mother to two young children, said her 13-year-old daughter was watching some of the news coverage on Wednesday night and kept asking her mother, as she has done for the past week, what she was going to do about the situation.

"Putting ourselves in the shoes of these kids, they want answers, they want action and they are afraid, so it hasn't been a surprise to me that the kids are leading," Raimondo said. "Because, let's face it, our kids are growing up with mass shootings in the news and growing up with active shooter drills."

During the conference call, Malloy highlighted the efforts that Connecticut took after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, including banning the sale of assault weapons and taking mental health and school safety steps.

The regional gun violence research consortium, which the governors announced on Thursday, will task researchers in criminal justice, public safety, public health, public policy and social welfare, with analyzing data and producing reports, according to the agreement.

The federal government has had a provision in place — since 1996 — that effectively prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence and prevention, Murphy said. The states are trying to conduct the research in a coordinated way, he said, adding that it will include smart gun technology.

The agreement further calls on the four states to share with one another information from their databases on who cannot buy or own a gun in their respective borders.

"The agreement, in accordance with federal and state privacy protections, will provide state law enforcement agencies with details on the firearm purchase or permit denials for those who are disqualified," a news release from Malloy's office elaborates. "People may be disqualified from owning a firearm for several reasons, including an arrest warrant, order of protection, debilitating mental health condition, or criminal history." 

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the states would share information from their state databases that may not be in the federal background checks system.

Malloy said Connecticut has a law that prevents people with protective orders against them from continuing to possess guns and buying guns, and it makes sense to share that information with bordering states.

Cuomo added that while the states are not waiting for federal action, the coalition is not a substitute for federal action and the governors will continue to push for changes on the national level. He said he'd like to see the national Democrats put a sensible gun-control bill on the table.

"This has been handled by countries across the globe," he said. "We can do it, if we want to, if we have the political courage and the political will to do it. It's that simple, but it's that difficult."

k.drelich@theday.com

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