PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A proposed ban on so-called ‘assault weapons’ introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly Tuesday is the latest attempt at a policy that has failed to pass in recent years.
The sponsors of the bill hope a fresh attempt at outlawing certain semiautomatic rifles will stick, as politicians and community activists work to change gun policy in the wake of the latest deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“This is not a new battle for me,” said Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “I think I’ve had a gun bill of one sort or another, including an assault weapons ban, since I was first elected.”
The legislation, sponsored on the House side by Rep. Jason Knight, would “restrict the possession and sale of semiautomatic weapons, limit ammunition magazines to ten or less rounds, and would make provisions for ‘grandfathered’ ownership of semiautomatic assault weapons,” according to a summary of the 11-page bill.
The semiautomatic rifles, commonly known as assault weapons, were once banned by the federal government, but the prohibition lapsed in 2004 and rifles like the AR-15 flooded the market. The AR-style rifles have been the weapon of choice for many mass shooters, including the most recent gunman at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Since the weapons were legalized, some states-including Massachusetts-have chosen to ban the guns on their own. But multiple attempts in Rhode Island have been unsuccessful.
According to State House spokesperson Larry Berman, the most recent attempt at an assault weapons ban was in the Senate in 2015. Similar bills were introduced in both the House and Senate in 2014 and 2013, all of which were “held for further study,” languishing in committee without a vote.
Miller hopes 2018 will be different.
“This is a different era with a different group of partners, and I’m really glad to have them,” he said at a rally for a number of gun control bills at the State House Tuesday.
“Enough was enough, even before Florida,” he told the crowd.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who is sponsoring another gun bill related to “red flags,” is not sold on the assault weapons ban.
“I, myself, would have to be convinced that that’s actually going to help people,” Mattiello said in an interview last week.
He said he believes removing guns from people with behavioral health issues would be more effective than banning certain styles of weapons.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has not taken a stance on the assault weapons ban. Spokesperson Greg Pare said he needed time to review the language of the bill.
Ruggerio is also supporting the red flag bill, which would create a new tool for courts to take guns away from people who are deemed at risk to commit violence.
“I think most Rhode Islanders agree that we should balance constitutional rights with the need to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals,” Ruggerio said in a statement Tuesday.
Both Mattiello and Ruggerio received A+ ratings from the National Rifle Association in 2016.
In addition to the assault weapons ban and the red flag bill, Rhode Island lawmakers will also consider a ban on bump stocks and an a bill to raise the age to own a rifle to 21.