The small town of Burillville, Rhode Island is gearing up for a big fight with the state government over the enactment of a new ban on so-called large capacity ammunition magazines. The new law, which is set to take effect in mid-December, requires all owners of magazines that can hold more than ten rounds to either permanently modify them to accept no more than ten rounds, remove the magazines from the state of Rhode Island, or hand them over to police. Anyone caught with a standard 17-round Glock magazine (or any other 10+ round magazine) after the law takes effect could face felony charges and up to five years in prison.
Burillville’s Town Council, which last year approved designating the community a “Second Amendment Sanctuary”, has reacted with defiance to the new law, with Council President Donald Fox recently declaring during a meeting that he will be holding onto his magazines, no matter what the law says.
Fox swore to bring his high-capacity magazines to every meeting, even after the mid-December date when the law takes effect.
“I’ll never give them up,” Fox declared. “And I recommend that anybody in Burrillville does the same.”
This opening salvo from Fox and the other six members of the Town Council, both Democrats and Republicans, came on June 22, the day after Governor Daniel McKee signed three gun bills into law, raising the minimum age for purchases, prohibiting the open-carry of long-guns, and limiting magazine capacity.
“The Burrillville Town Council is not looking to advocate not following all laws, but this is one issue that violates the Constitution. This particular law violates our constitutional rights,” Fox, who is a Republican, told the Globe in an interview Monday. “Most of the stupid laws passed by Providence are usually unfunded mandates, but we have to follow them. But in this particular case, the Burrillville Town Council took an oath to uphold the Constitution.”
The Boston Globe reports that the council is holding another meeting this evening to discuss its response to the new laws, which includes the possibility of litigation. The new gun control mandates are already being challenged in federal court, so council members may choose not to pursue litigation of their own, but Fox says at the very least the town will ensure that not a penny of local tax dollars is spent on enforcing the new edicts.
“As much as we’re upset as a town, it’s important to understand if town has standing,” Fox said.
Fox warned that there is one thing the Town Council can control: “The town will not allocate funds to confiscate or seize any gun magazines,” he said. “We control the police budget.”
The police chief, Colonel Stephen Lynch, said that he is waiting to see what happens.
“I made my position clear some time ago. I can’t pick and choose what laws to enforce or not enforce,” Lynch told the Globe on Tuesday.
Yeah, actually you can. Law enforcement has broad discretion about which laws to enforce and when, and if the chief chooses not to make arresting individuals simply for having a “large capacity” magazine a priority for the town’s police force, that’s entirely up to him.
We’re already seeing this play out on the left when it comes to abortion, with a number of liberal jurisdictions in red states declaring they will not enforce abortion bans or other restrictions that are in place. Just a few days ago law enforcement agencies in New Orleans adopted that stance, and while Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has urged that state funding for the city be cut in response, he’s not talking about arresting or prosecuting police for failing to enforce abortion-related statutes.
Similarly, the town of Burillville could be threatened with a loss of state funds if council members refuse to enforce the new anti-gun restrictions. The state police could also have a greater presence in the small town, and any violations of the state’s mag ban that they run across could be referred to the prosecutor’s office in the county seat (and state capital) of Providence.
The Second Amendment Sanctuary designation isn’t a perfect defense against the new laws, but it can provide some measure of relief for residents in the town. The bigger issue is whether the state law will actually take effect or if the federal judge overseeing the legal challenge will grant an injunction barring enforcement of the mag ban while the case winds its way through the court system. It’s going to be up to the state of Rhode Island to come up with historical evidence that the text, history, and tradition of the right to keep and bear arms in the United States allows for that kind of criminalization of commonly-possessed arms, and given that these kinds of capacity restrictions are a pretty recent development and are only found in a handful of states, that’s going to be a tall order.