Rhode Island General Assembly Passes Sweeping Gun Control Legislation

Three weeks after the horrific mass murder of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at a Texas elementary school by an 18-year-old gunman, the Rhode Island General Assembly on Tuesday passed sweeping gun control legislation which limits high capacity magazines, bans the open carry of long guns, and raises the age to purchase a firearm or ammunition to 21.

The high capacity magazine bill (2022-H 6614A, 2022-S 2653) prohibits the possession, sale or transfer of any feeding device capable of holding, or readily able to be extended to hold, more than 10 rounds of ammunition to be fed continuously into a semi-automatic firearm.

“Uvalde. Buffalo. Sandy Hook. Parkland. Las Vegas. Orlando. Sutherland Springs. Boulder. Aurora… the list goes on. High-capacity magazines have enabled mass shooters to commit the most devastating, appalling, and most lethal attacks on the public in recent decades. With this bill, we are finally saying we will not tolerate these dangerous weapons,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) “Our neighboring states have already prohibited high-capacity magazines, and we should join them in refusing to accept the risks they present to Rhode Islanders.”

Under the bill, those who already own large-capacity magazines or weapons that hold more than 10 rounds will have 180 days to comply with the law by either permanently altering the weapon so it can no longer hold more than 10 rounds, turning it into their local or state police, or transferring or selling it to a federally licensed firearm dealer or person or outside the state who is lawfully entitled to own or possess it. The bill provides exceptions for current and retired law enforcement officers and active duty military or National Guard members.

The bill banning the open carry of long guns (The bill (2022-S 2825, 2022-H 7358A) would make the definitions of “rifle” and “shotgun” consistent with federal law, and prohibit the open carry of any loaded rifle or shotgun in public. A violation would be punishable by imprisonment of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000 or both.

“We must not accept violence as an unavoidable consequence of freedom. We have a responsibility to address it,” said Representative Felix. “No one should be walking around our communities with a loaded weapon. A readily available loaded gun can too swiftly turn a conflict into a lethal tragedy, ruining the lives of everyone involved with a single bad decision. Requiring that firearms be transported safely is common sense and increases safety for all.”

The provisions of the act would not apply to law enforcement or to persons legally engaged in hunting activity.

“The open carrying of loaded rifles and shotguns has been exploited in certain places to intimidate voters and protestors and to suppress free speech,” said Senator McCaffrey. “Rhode Island already bans the open carrying of handguns without a permit. This would close a loophole in the law that allows the open carrying of long guns along any public highway, road, lane, or trail within this state.”

The bill to raise the age to purchase a gun or ammunition to 21 (2022-H 7457aa) will make it illegal to sell any firearm, or ammunition, to anyone under 21, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. The bill contains exceptions for police, state marshals or correctional officers and active duty military or National Guard members.

“When our existing law prohibiting people under 21 from buying handguns was enacted in 1959, AR-15s were weapons that even the military didn’t have. No one envisioned that 63 years later, there would be millions of these high-velocity, extraordinarily lethal weapons in the hands of civilians. Certainly no one ever imagined that a teenager would go out and legally buy two of them on his 18th birthday along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, then use them to massacre 19 innocent children and two teachers at school,” said Representative Tanzi. “It’s not 1959. In 2022, we need laws that recognize the incredible killing capacity of modern weapons, and the serious gun violence epidemic we have in this nation. We need to put an end to the years of political inaction that is enabling mass shootings. I’m proud that today in Rhode Island, we are moving in the right direction.”

“I don’t believe for one second that changing this law is going to stop mass shootings. It’s going to take a lot more, but we have to start with reducing easy access to powerful weapons by teenagers and very young people,” she continued. “We have to move the needle toward gun safety reform, which is supported by the vast majority of Americans. We are so heartbroken, so sick and so tired of the relentless slaughter of innocent people in this country, every single day. It is up to those of us whose job it is to make laws to find the courage to stand up and do everything we can to put a stop to it.”

These measures now move to Governor McKee’s office where he is expected to sign them into law.



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