Gun control legislation expected to take center stage at State House once again

By Katherine Gregg 
Journal Political Writer 

Posted Mar 19, 2019 at 2:38 PM
Updated Mar 19, 2019 at 2:38 PM

PROVIDENCE — If history repeats itself, hundreds of people on both sides of the gun debate will descend on the Rhode Island State House in their signature yellow and orange T-shirts to testify Tuesday night on a raft of gun bills, including Governor Raimondo’s push to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and guns on school grounds.

In recent days, the Rhode Island Firearm Owners League put out an urgent call to its followers on Facebook to send form letters drafted by the NRA to Rhode Island lawmakers, and show up for Tuesday night’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.

“ALERT!!″ the gun-owners group posted. “Everything is on the table, including ban on popular semi automatic firearms, magazine restrictions, and further restrictions on where you can legally carry firearms. ... To sum it up: A LOT OF BAD BILLS that needs [sic] to be stopped.

A second posting by the group has this to say about this year’s version of a bill to ban guns within 300 feet of a school: “This is a bad bill that the antis is spending a lot of resources on and that we must stop. If this passes they will go after the next place you can’t carry such as church, grocery store, golf club, etc. to a point where the CCW [concealed-carry permit] permit is pointless!”

“Get out your yellow shirt and buttons!” the group implored its followers. “We need a turnout that shuts the Statehouse down.”

The other side in this perennial debate has also been busy, lining up people to come to the State House to make the case for more stringent gun laws to prevent more violence.

State Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a Providence public school teacher, took to Twitter with a series of personal appeals to her fellow lawmakers:

“What part of Prevention don’t you understand? We can’t wait for a mass shooting in Rhode Island to ban assault weapons. Those are weapons of war. And, one more thing, we do not need guns in our schools. Our schools are sacred places of teaching and learning. #EndGunViolence,″ she wrote in one tweet.

And in another, she wrote: “I got up this morning and made a list of family, friends, students that I lost to gun violence. My list is up to 11. Every time a loved one dies, a piece of my heart is shattered. Sad.”

“There is no 2nd Amendment right to own an assault weapon,” said attorney Michael Kraemer, in written testimony provided to The Journal in advance. “There is no 2nd Amendment right to carry a gun onto school property. There is no 2nd Amendment right to carry firearms — openly or concealed. There is no 2nd Amendment right to shoot adults or children with a weapon intended for military use.”

“Seven States and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning assault weapons including: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Rhode Island lags behind,″ said the group known as The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

With an A-rating from the NRA, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been the “firewall” against past action by the House on bills to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and guns on school grounds.

But the makeup of the House has changed, with the 2018 election of more progressives — and the out-front opposition of 19 dissident Democrats whose votes he may need to muster the super-majority needed to pass a state budget later in the session. In this atmosphere, Mattiello allowed a full House vote on a bill that he personally opposed to keep abortion legal no matter what might happen in Washington.

“The 2018 election changed the Rhode Island chamber — we now have a majority of representatives who support gun safety policy,” said Coalition Against Gun Violence Executive Director Linda Finn. “We are confident that this support, coupled with the support of the Governor and Attorney General, who introduced these bills, will be enough to persuade leadership that is time for the full House to vote on these bills.”

“As it stands, without the Safe Schools Act (House Bill 5762), Rhode Island is one of only four states in the country that generally allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to walk onto any school with a gun, without informing school administrators or teachers,” said Catherine Sawoski, president of High School Democrats of Rhode Island. “This is the very fear that myself and my classmates live with.”

Tuesday night’s House Judiciary Committee hearing will focus on 15 bills for which the General Assembly has given these brief descriptions:

H 5021: Criminalizes possession of a firearm by a minor, except when the minor is engaged in certain activities and when accompanied by a parent, guardian, or qualified adult.

H 5022: Makes it unlawful for any person to carry a rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about their person whether visible or concealed subject to certain exceptions.

H 5332: Prohibits schools from offering employment incentives or bonuses to teachers on the condition that the teacher either is or becomes licensed to carry a weapon.

H 5497: Permits the open and concealed carry of weapons by any person in the act of evacuating the area pursuant to an order of the governor or local authority.

H 5703: Defines the term “ghost gun” and bans the manufacture, sale purchase or possession of a machine gun, a ghost gun or an undetectable firearm.

H 5723: Amends the definition of firearms to include taser. Permits any person over the age of eighteen (18) to possess a stun gun. Enacts the review and appeal process of applying for a license to carry with the licensing authority or attorney general.

H 5728: Increases the age from 18 to 21 years for lawful possession, sale, or transfer of firearms or ammunition. Full-time law enforcement, fire marshals and members of U.S. military would be exempt from these prohibitions.

H 5739: Prohibits sale/possession of a feeding device holding more than 10 ammunition rounds punishable by up to $5,000 fine or up to 5 years imprisonment with law enforcement/military personnel exceptions.

H 5740: Requires firearms to be stored securely when not in use and enhances penalties for failure to store firearms in a secure manner.

H 5741: Bans possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons which are not property registered.

H 5752: Enhances penalties for failure to report lost or stolen firearms to the police department, and specifies penalties for making a false report of lost or stolen firearms.

H 5754: Includes the chief inspector and inspector as those exempt from carrying a firearm without a permit and would define them as peace officers.

H 5762: Prohibits firearms possession within 300 feet of school grounds except for peace officers, retired law enforcement officers, persons providing school security, firearms on private property and unloaded firearms in containers or locked car racks.

H 5786: Prohibits the manufacturing, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, or transfer of any firearm that is undetectable by metal detectors commonly used at airports and public buildings including 3D printed firearms as defined herein.