Rhode Island Democrats set to advance gun ban bill

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A year after the state legislature imposed a ban on “large capacity” magazines requiring existing owners to destroy them, turn them over to police, or remove them from the state in order to avoid criminal charges, Rhode Island lawmakers are prepared to take an even bigger bite out of the Second Amendment rights of residents with a ban on so-called assault weapons.


The gun ban bill is one of three anti-2A measures that will be the subject of a gun control rally featuring the new head of Moms Demand Action, Gov. Daniel McKee, and other state officials and anti-gun activists, and McKee is putting pressure on lawmakers to get the legislation to his desk as quickly as possible.

”Banning assault weapons and ensuring safe storage are common-sense actions that can prevent a tragedy and help keep our communities safe,” McKee said. “We know it will take all of us coming together with one voice to get this legislation over the finish line. That’s why I’m deeply grateful for the strong, united team of elected leaders, community members, and nonprofits standing behind these bills. I am ready to sign them into law the moment they reach my desk. Let’s get it done.”

Banning guns that aren’t used in a lot of crimes won’t do anything to make Rhode Island a safer place, and mandating a one-size-fits-all storage policy for firearms will actually put gun owners at risk of being unable to defend themselves in the case of a burglary or home invasion. Given that a first-time violation of the storage law is subject to a $250 fine and no jail time, the measure is not only an infringement of a fundamental right, but is also not likely to have any impact whatsoever on those who leave loaded guns unattended where a child could get ahold of one.

As for the proposed “assault weapons” ban, the language currently contains a grandfather clause “permitting” existing gun owners to hang on to their firearms for now, but only if they register them with the state. That’s simply setting up future legislation to repeal the grandfather clause and give state police a rough idea of who, exactly, is keeping those banned arms when it comes time to confiscate or criminalize their possession.


House Minority Leader Michael W. Chippendale, a Foster Republican, argued against the proposed ban on “assault-style weapons.” He noted that one section of the legislation calls for registering the weapons, saying, “Not only does it not make sense, it’s offensive to the general constitutional right — the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

Also, Chippendale said Rhode Island is not seeing crimes carried out with “assault-style weapons,” but rather with small, concealable handguns and 3D-printed weapons. Rhode Island is already “very strict on the exercise of the Second Amendment,” and the level of crimes involving firearms is among the lowest in the nation, he said. “It’s not about the mass shootings they will invoke. It’s about their irrational hatred of and misunderstanding of the Second Amendment and private firearm ownership.”

Despite Chippendale’s opposition, the assault weapons bill appears to have support in the House. And the main question is whether it can make it through the Judiciary Committee to reach the Senate floor. As with the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, the committee has four solid supporters of the gun bill, three solid opponents, and two potential swing votes in Democratic Senators David P. Tikoian of Smithfield and John P. Burke of West Warwick.

Rhode Island’s magazine ban is already the subject of a federal court challenge, and any ban on so-called assault weapons would quickly face similar litigation. It’s always better to defeat a bad bill than overturn a bad law, so I hope that Rhode Island gun owners will flood the offices of Tikoian and Burke with calls and emails demanding they do the right thing and focus on the actual perpetrators of violent crime instead of criminalizing the exercise of a fundamental civil right. Gov. McKee and gun control groups are definitely whispering in their ear and twisting arms to get them to jump on board the gun ban bandwagon, but these supposedly swing votes need to be hearing from gun owners as well.


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