Following the summer’s bout of mass shootings in cities such as Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, Rhode Island’s representatives in Washington are frustrated with the nation’s lack of action to reduce gun violence.
Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., who has repeatedly introduced legislation over the past several years that would increase national gun safety regulations, experienced a legislative win Tuesday when the House Judiciary Committee passed the Disarm Hate Act, which he had originally introduced, alongside two other bills relating to gun control. The act bans the sale of firearms to “anyone convicted of assaulting someone based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” wrote Francis Grubar, press secretary for Cicilline, in an email to The Herald. He added that these “misdemeanor hate crimes” are often precursors to more serious acts of violence.
Cicilline’s fellow Rhode Island representative Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., cosponsored the Disarm Hate Act and the other two bills that passed through the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday: the Extreme Risk Prevention Order Act, which allows law enforcement officers and family members to request a court order prohibiting an individual from purchasing or possessing firearms, and the Keep Americans Safe Act, which bans the import, sale, manufacture, transfer or possession of high-capacity magazines for civilian use.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., filed a friend-of-the-court brief this summer with several of his Democratic colleagues to urge the Supreme Court not to take up a case he says will allow the National Rifle Association to continue its attempt to undermine gun regulations. “Republicans and their big donors now see the court as part of their team,” Whitehouse wrote in a Sept. 6 op-ed in The Washington Post. “They can achieve political gains there that they cannot win in Congress.”
Whitehouse’s colleague Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., another proponent of increased gun control, spoke at a vigil for victims of gun violence in Providence this summer, where he emphasized the importance of “enacting sensible gun control legislation.”
The Senate is yet to bring a vote on gun reform to the floor this cycle. “The problem is not Congress, it’s the Senate,” Langevin said, adding that their lack of action is “making me angry and my constituents frustrated.”
“It’s a great concern among my constituents about the issue of pervasive gun violence that’s clearly on the rise,” Langevin said. There is “broad-based support among my constituents for common-sense gun safety laws to be passed both at the state and national level,” he added.
According to USA Today, Rhode Island has the second lowest rate of gun violence in the country. Among other provisions, Rhode Island is one of several states that mandate background checks for private gun sales, a seven-day waiting period on all firearm purchases, dealers to obtain licenses and all handgun purchasers to have earned a safety certificate, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. For Glenn Valentine, member of the Rhode Island Firearm Owners’ League, legislation on the national level is mostly “irrelevant” because Rhode Island already has comprehensive background checks and fairly strict regulations, he said. But Valentine added that “there are firearms that turn up in Rhode Island that come from states like Virginia,” where gun laws are more relaxed. This is a fact that even gun owners in the state, like Valentine, are not comfortable with.
“We need to attack the causes of gun violence beyond just banning assault weapons, as important as I think that is,” said Gabe Mernoff ’22, a member of the gun violence prevention group Thoughts Prayers Action, adding that he mostly works on advocacy at the local level.