PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island lawmakers Tuesday are discussing ways to update the state’s gun policies amid a nationwide debate over gun control.
The State House rotunda was packed with legislators, local leaders and gun control advocates as Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Jason Knight urged fellow lawmakers to co-sponsor their bill to ban so-called assault weapons.
Speakers at the event said it’s time for a change, particularly in light of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. They want the General Assembly to take action and align Rhode Island with neighboring states.
“My goal is to put daylight between the potential mass shooter and his or her ability to obtain an assault rifle in Rhode Island,” said Rep. Jason Knight, D-Barrington.
“On the assault weapon ban – Massachusetts has one, Connecticut has one, New York has one, and I hope to God pretty soon we have one,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said.
The legislation seeks to limit magazine capacity and restrict the sale and possession of certain semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns.
Members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence gathered at the State House to call on lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill.
The proposal is the latest in a string of attempts to get an assault weapons ban through the General Assembly, all of which have failed in recent years.
“The difference this year is not only an assault weapons ban or a bump stock or a red flag or a safe schools initiative or a magazines limit, it’s that we have a much larger group of advocates and a much more effective group of advocates,” Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston, said.
“It will not stop at assault weapons,” Miller added. “It will stop when we hear from our high school students and our teachers that they feel safe.”
The proposal would grandfather the ownership of certain weapons and high-capacity magazines prohibited under the act, and would make exceptions for law enforcement.
Not everyone is on board, however. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he’s not convinced that banning a certain type of weapon will solve the larger problem. Meanwhile, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he hasn’t yet had a chance to review the legislation.
State lawmakers on Tuesday are also expected to introduce a proposed “red flag” law, which aims to temporarily prevent a person who’s shown certain “red flags” – signs of serious risk of harming themselves or members of the public – from possessing or purchasing firearms until they have a court hearing. Mattiello co-sponsored the House version of that bill.
Raimondo on Monday signed an executive order to institute a “red flag” policy, a more narrow measure that calls on police to “take all available legal steps” to remove guns from dangerous individuals.
“You keep hearing the word military-style weapons, but military weapons are already banned from civilian possession,” Cranston Mayor and Republican candidate for governor Allan Fung said while opposing both the red flag policy and proposed assault weapon ban.
Fung’s comments on Monday resulted in backlash from both sides of the aisle.
Other proposals being considered by legislators include a ban on sales of firearms to anyone under 21 and prohibition of bump stocks.