R.I. Congress delegation supports federal gun restrictions

Bills would expand background checks, close loopholes and limit magazine capacity

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2013
This article is part of the series Gun Violence

All four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation have taken leading roles in Congress advocating additional federal gun control regulations. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., have all either introduced or supported bills in the current session of Congress that promote what they call “common-sense” gun safety laws like universal background checks for firearm purchases.

The four members of the delegation are co-sponsoring a bill that would require a background check to purchase a firearm at a gun show, removing the “gun show loophole.” While government regulations require all firearm dealers to perform background checks, person-to-person sales are free of this restriction.

The legislators are also co-sponsoring a bill that would ban the sale or possession of “ammunition feeding devices” — such as magazines — that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds. Whitehouse, Cicilline and Reed are also co-sponsoring the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, which would reinstate the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, eliminating access to a variety of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The bill, if enacted, would never expire.

Michael Hammond, legislative counsel of Gun Owners of America — an organization with about 300,000 members — said he opposed what he called President Obama’s cynical attempt to use a tragedy for political gain. “We understand what the game is. No one thinks any of these things would have had an impact on Newtown,” he said.

Hammond said he thought Obama was pushing gun control legislation to make it harder for Republicans to return to power. “If he can destroy the Second Amendment community — the last major leg on which the Republican Party ground game rests — Obama can destroy any effective opposition to the liberal agenda for the foreseeable future,” he said. “It’s about Obama’s ruthless efforts to destroy the people who oppose him.”

Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, said she thinks Obama sees “gun violence as an epidemic that disproportionately affects the poor” and that his support for gun control is not very politically motivated. “Everything else he wants to do is designed to put the Republicans in a bad position,” but “it would be counter-productive of him to go after guns,” she said. A fight over gun control “only mobilizes people that are most adamantly worried about guns — and they vote Republican.”

In addition to the bills he is co-sponsoring, Cicilline has introduced legislation that would close a loophole allowing gun providers whose licenses have been revoked or have expired to transfer their remaining inventory to their personal collection, said Richard Luchette, Cicilline’s communications director. Gun merchants with lapsed licenses can currently sell firearms as private citizens without nearly as much regulatory oversight, he said. Cicilline ,a founding member of Mayors against Illegal Guns — a coalition of mayors dedicated to cracking down on illegal gun use — has also pursued a “comprehensive effort to require background checks on gun sales.”

Langevin has proposed the Crackdown on Deadbeat Gun Dealers Act in Congress, which would increase the number of annual inspections on firearm merchants’ sale-records and raise penalties for violations. Currently, a disproportionately large number of guns used in crimes can be traced to a small number of irresponsible gun dealers, said Jonathon Dworkin, Langevin’s spokesman.

Langevin has had a personal connection to gun control since he was paralyzed in a gun accident in a police station locker room as a teenager, Dworkin said.

If an accident can occur in “a police station with two weapons experts … an accident could happen anywhere,” he said. Much of the legislation he supports is focused on “keeping guns out of the wrong hands” by means of background checks, Dworkin said.

Reed, a former officer in the U.S. Army, supports improved mental health care and more controls on the availability of assault weapons, according to a press release. “Assault weapon” is a political term commonly used to describe semiautomatic weapons with military-style features, like flash suppressors and pistol grips.

“I served in the Army, and I’ve used military-style weapons.  Let’s be clear — they are designed to rapidly kill,” Reed said in a press release.

Langevin and Cicilline were appointed to the Gun Violence Protection Task Force, a committee of House Democrats that will propose legislative options on gun control for Congress and the president. “The goal of the task force is to recommend a set of policy proposals to reduce gun violence,” Luchette said.

Intense partisanship around gun control legislation in Congress promises to impede progress on any of the delegation’s proposals. Of the legislation under consideration, background check laws are most likely to pass because it will be “harder for the (National Rifle Association) and (its) Democratic supporters to argue against” them, Schiller said. Many gun owners are in favor of safety precautions like background checks, even if they disagree with bans on specific firearms, Dworkin said.

Garnering support for bills restricting access to weapons or high-capacity magazines will be much more difficult, Schiller said. An assault weapons ban will be “impossible” to pass in Congress, Schiller added, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opposes the bill.

She said the ban is unpopular because it would only prevent gun owners who purchase weapons legally from obtaining access to firearms. Criminals who have illegal weapons will still commit violence, she added. Though limiting high-capacity magazines is important, “trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them” would be more popular and effective, Schiller said.

Keeping the public’s attention on the issue is integral to the success of gun control legislation, Dworkin said. The Sandy Hook shooting “really shocked the conscience of our whole nation, but even in the month and a half since then, we’ve seen close to 1,500 people killed across the country by gun violence,” Luchette said.

To raise awareness of gun violence, Langevin and Cicilline are each inviting someone who has been affected by firearms to the President’s State of the Union next week, Dworkin said. Each member of Congress receives one guest ticket to the address.

“For advocates for gun safety to be successful, it’s really important that people across the country are making their voices heard and compelling their government to act,” Dworkin said.

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  1. It’s disappointing that the NRA is taking the easy way out by flatly opposing background checks at gun shows. And not because crime guns acquired this way are barely of statistical significance. The trouble lies in the insidious wording of the legislation and the difficulty in criticizing it on that level without boring the listener to tears. If you are truly interested in the subject or have trouble falling asleep, S.22 is worth a read:

    Senate Bill 22 essentially defines a gun show as any “event” at which more than 49 firearms are offered for sale. This could mean any sporting goods store or gun shop opening its door for daily business. S.22 also gives the Attorney General unlimited authority to set fees for promoters, create regulations, specify forms, and have unfettered access to gun shows to perform inspections. Pardon the hyperbole but in theory the Attorney General could declare most all gun dealers place of business as a gun show, charge a billion dollars promoter fee, and require 10,000 pages of forms be filed 20 years in advance, thus terminating most all legal transactions. By giving the Attorney General unrestricted access to gun shows, he can disrupt and perhaps shut down any or all shows to examine records or inventory without “a showing of reasonable cause or a warrant.” To wit, this legislation goes way beyond what is necessary to require a simple background check between two unlicensed people at a gun show.

  2. The strongest advocates for gun safety are law abiding gun owners. They have the most to lose, be it by injury or rights of ownership. They are making their voices heard and compelling their legislators to NOT act. Perhaps Langevin and Dworkin should, in the interest of safety, think about keeping guns out of locker rooms.

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