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Gun control, reform bills debated in R.I. Senate

Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony from supporters, critics of 11 bills

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard impassioned testimony from supporters and critics of gun reform Tuesday, as the committee considered 11 bills addressing gun safety and access in the state.

At the State House, the crowd of protesters wearing yellow in support of gun ownership far outnumbered those wearing red and orange in support of gun control.

Most testimony focused on three of the eleven bills, which were sponsored by Governor Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Neronha. One of these bills would ban assault weapon access, another would prohibit firearms within 300 feet of a school and the last would outlaw large capacity feeding devices. Companion House bills were heard two weeks ago, The Herald previously reported.

The Attorney General also sponsored four other bills that would regulate weapon use and possession — defining and limiting accessibility of guns undetectable by security devices, punishing individuals for failing to report stolen firearms, requiring secure storage of guns and preventing  firearms from being procured on behalf of someone prohibited from possession. The Committee also heard a bill that would grant the Attorney General’s office exclusive power to issue pistol and revolver carry permits, and another that calls for summarizing gun sales and transfers on a monthly basis.

While ten of the bills discussed Tuesday are generally supported by advocates for gun control, the Committee also heard a bill supported by members of the National Rifle Association, which would legalize the possession of tasers for individuals over 18.

Vice President of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition Michael O’Neil spoke against several of the bills and in favor of the taser proposition. He criticized the suggestion of creating a registry of gun owners as a potential violation of state and federal laws prohibiting government firearm registration.

Secretary of the Rhode Island Revolver and Rifle Association Brenda Jacob defended guns as foundations of culture and community.

“When you start reading (the assault weapons ban), it lists every single rifle that we all own,” she said, explaining that her son’s threaded barrel rifle would be banned under the bill. As a shooting instructor for women, she views guns as means for women to protect themselves from domestic violence.

“I’m very passionate about it because I’m a product of the firearm community; I grew up in it,” she told The Herald, adding that “there is no one that is more against gun violence than the gun community.”

Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence Linda Finn testified in favor of ten of the bills, excluding the bill regarding tasers. During her testimony, Finn said that this year — the sixth year of R.I. legislative advocacy for increased gun control — is the first time both bills have majority support in the House and Senate.

Colonel James Manni of the Rhode Island State Police also testified in support of the three most high-profile bills. “I’m a responsible gun owner. I believe in the second amendment. I’m an NRA member, and I’ve used firearms for probably 45 years, from a very early age. I shoot recreationally, maybe every week, sometimes twice a week,” he said. Last year, Manni co-chaired the Governor’s Working Group on Gun Safety, which brought together leaders across disciplines to design gun safety legislation.

“In my law enforcement career, I’ve seen the good side of firearms and I’ve seen the bad side,” Manni added.

Reverend Jamie Washam of the First Baptist Church in America expressed support for legislation emphasizing gun safety and is especially focused on keeping guns out of schools.

“As religious people, we have the thoughts and prayers angle really covered, and we want to push our legislators to legislate,” she said.

About half a dozen University students from Thoughts Prayers Action attended the event.

Lily Gordon ’21 was one of the founding members of the University’s chapter of Thoughts Prayers Action, which was established in the wake of the Parkland Shooting to advocate for gun safety. She found there were “less people than usual” present at the State House compared to the House hearing two weeks ago but felt compelled to show up Tuesday to express the importance of the bills for protecting marginalized groups.

“Those bills won’t be able to legislate away hate — people are still going to be anti-Semitic, people are still going to hate the LGBTQ+ community — but we do have the capacity to limit access to the kinds of weapons that are used in massacres.”

No vote was scheduled for the bills by press time.


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