Gun Bills Roil Rhode Island Capitol As Session Winds Down

AP Photo/Steven Senne

With just a few days left in the legislative session, gun owners in Rhode Island may have staved off the worst gun control bills introduced this year, but gun control activists are still hoping that the Democrat-controlled legislature will still send something they can call a victory to the governor before lawmakers adjourn until 2022.

The House and Senate leadership put together a package of four gun control measures that are slated for votes today, but gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety are ticked that a ban on so-called “large capacity” magazines isn’t on the agenda despite the fact that a majority of both chambers has sponsored a bill banning ammunition magazines that can hold more than ten rounds.

Instead, the centerpiece of the gun control package that’s expected to be voted on is a new gun ban on school grounds, which would force licensed parents who are picking up their kids to park their car, unholster and unload their carry gun, and lock it and their ammunition up before driving on to school property.

“So now we’re legislating unsafe handling of firearms, the Rhode Island Firearm Owners’ League posted on Facebook.

“They are banking on you not paying attention and not making any noise.  This is how you lose your rights,” the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action wrote on its website.

The top target for the gun-rights lobby is legislation banning the concealed-carry of a firearm on school grounds, except by police and hired security officers.

The NRA argument: “This legislation is a solution in search of a problem,” which nonetheless “creates new and potentially dangerous problems, as it would require gun owners to unload in the parking lot and then leave their firearm in an unattended vehicle.”

It’s crazy to believe that someone with ill intentions is going to abide by a gun ban on school property, so this proposed law is aimed squarely at legal gun owners, and the NRA and Rhode Island Firearm Owners League are right to be alarmed. And this isn’t the only bad bill in lawmakers’ sights.

The NRA also takes issue with one of Atty. Gen. Peter Neronha’s top priorities this year: legislation to outlaw the “straw purchases” of weapons by intermediaries, for people who are not eligible to buy the weapons themselves for various reasons, including their criminal records.

The NRA’s take on this bill: “What this bill really does is create traps to ensnare those who might “transfer” firearms.  Simply handing-off a gun from instructor to student could potentially result in serious legal jeopardy.  The bill creates a new felony and would result in a lifetime gun ban.”

The NRA had no quarrel with an enhanced gun-crimes reporting bill sponsored by several of the legislature’s biggest gun-rights supporters, but took issue with a bill to encourage safe gun-storage that no longer contains a mandate. As it stands, the bill offers a tax credit for buying a gun safe.

The NRA argument: “Micromanaging safety practices inside one’s home by mandating firearms be under lock and key denies the basic right to self-defense and is a flagrant violation of a person’s constitutional rights.”

Now, there’s a chance that these bills may not make it out of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, which has five senators rated “A” by the National Rifle Association. Four of them are Democrats, however, and if party leaders start twisting arms we could see one or more of them end up voting in favor of the anti-gun bills even if it costs them the support of gun owners in their reelection campaign.

Of course, if these senators are interested in reducing crime and not just trying to turn legal gun owners into criminals, they’ll reject these proposals and push their colleagues to get tough on violent offenders instead of trying to criminalize the right to keep and bear arms. I’d love to say I’m confident that these A-rated Democrats will do the right thing, but my suspicion is that enough of them will end up putting party over principle to approve at least most of the Democrats’ gun control package.