The Rhode Island ban on so-called military-style ‘assault’ weapons and ‘high-capacity’ magazines fell by the wayside last week as state lawmakers adjourned their 2013 legislative session without approving the gun control measure.
House Bill 5990, known as the Gun Control and Safe Firearms Act, would have made it unlawful for a person to manufacture, sell, purchase or possess a semiautomatic rifle with two or more specific cosmetic features (folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, threaded barrel, etc.). Additionally, the bill would have banned magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The bill had garnered the support of Gov. Lincoln Chafee, House Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, all of whom contended that the measure would help reduce gun-related violent crime and prevent mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Many proponents of the ban pointed to strong opposition from gun rights advocates as the reason for its demise. During the weeks when the General Assembly was debating the issue, pro-gun organization held rallies at the State House to voice their opposition to the ban. In the end, it appears their protesting was enough to keep lawmakers from selling out the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.
Two other gun control proposals, one that would have required gun owners to register their firearms and pay a $100-per-gun registration fee and one that would have made it more difficult for residents to obtain concealed carry permits, also fell by the wayside, failing to gain momentum in either chamber and leaving pro-gun control lawmakers disappointed.
‘‘I was deeply disappointed,’’ state Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown) told the Associated Press. ‘‘I know there’s more that can be done. But the sad truth is tragedy happens, people are motivated, but people’s lives go on.’’
Instead of focusing on laws that trammel one’s right to keep and bear arms, lawmakers opted to review and approve what one may consider reasonable gun laws. Among the laws passed include a measure that would increase penalties for those in possession of a stolen firearm during the commission of a crime and another proposal that makes it illegal to possess a firearm with a destroyed serial number.
Additionally, the General Assembly approved a bill that creates a task force to investigate to what extent mental health records and information appear on firearm background checks. Rhode Island does not use the FBI’s NICS system; the state runs its own background check system.
Rep. Mike Chippendale (R-Foster), who vehemently opposed the ban on ‘assault’ weapons, told the AP that he was pleased both sides were able to work together on a bipartisan basis to approve proposals that didn’t infringe on gun owners’ rights, adding that the AWB, the mag ban and the registry wouldn’t have stopped gun crime or prevented another tragedy.
Chippendale said that the study of the mental health reporting and of the background check system is an example of legislation that may work to prevent a mass shooting like the one at Sandy Hook.
While the battle over gun control is never over, gun owners in the Ocean State should be pleased that their legislators did not follow the trail blazed by New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Colorado — all of which passed onerous gun laws in the wake of Newtown.