PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Following hours of heated debate between lawmakers, the House approved three gun control bills Friday.
The renewed push for gun control is in direct response to the country’s deadliest school shooting since 2012.
The first bill, which bans Rhode Islanders from possessing, purchasing or selling high-capacity firearm magazines, passed 43-24.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Justine Caldwell, prohibits magazines containing more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“Uvalde. Buffalo. Sandy Hook. Parkland. Las Vegas. Orlando. Sutherland Springs. Boulder. Aurora … the list goes on,” Caldwell said. “High-capacity magazines 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,” she continued. “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.”
House lawmakers rejected a number of amendments prior to the bill’s approval, including one that would grandfather in the magazines that Rhode Islanders already have in their possession.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) raised concerns about the amendment, arguing that officers wouldn’t be able to tell which magazines were purchased legally and which ones weren’t.
“The risk to the general population of Rhode Island posed by grandfathering is simply too great,” RICAGV said in a statement.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha agreed, writing a letter to lawmakers that, “because law enforcement would be unable to verify whether an individual possessed a magazine prior to the effective date of this legislation, such an exemption would serve as a readily available defense for every prospective criminal defendant.”
The legislation gives gun owners six months to either permanently alter their weapons so they can no longer hold more than 10 rounds, turn them into local or state police or sell them to a federally-licensed firearms dealer.
The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, would raise the legal gun-buying age from 18 to 21. It passed 52-16.
“Guns — all guns — are deadly weapons,” Tanzi said. “It’s reasonable that someone who is not old enough to buy alcohol or tobacco should also be considered not old enough to buy a gun.”
Tanzi said it doesn’t make sense to allow anyone under the age of 21 to own any kind of firearm, especially since the state already prohibits them from purchasing handguns.
“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,” Tanzi explained. “No one envisioned that 63 years later, there would be millions of these high-velocity, extraordinarily lethal weapons in the hands of civilians.”
“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,” she continued. “We need to put an end to the years of political inaction that is enabling mass shootings.”
The third bill, sponsored by Rep. Leonela Felix, would make it illegal to openly carry a loaded rifle or shotgun in public. It passed the House 53-16.
“We must not accept violence as an unavoidable consequence of freedom. We have a responsibility to address it,” Felix said. “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 legislation wouldn’t apply to law enforcement or Rhode Islanders “legally engaged in hunting activity.”
The passage of these bills follows more than a week’s worth of back and forth between Second Amendment supporters and firearm safety advocates.
The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA) has expressed its support for all three gun control bills, stating that they’re “centered on preserving public safety by building on many of the laws that are already in place.”
“The proposed legislation outlines common sense, reasonable measures that enhance the existing gun laws in Rhode Island and help ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of our residents,” RIPCA President Sean Corrigan said.
The three bills quickly cleared the House Judiciary Committee Thursday night. Prior to the vote, Second Amendment supporters flooded the State House in opposition of the bills.
Brenda Jacob, president of the Rhode Island Revolver and Rifle Association, told 12 News the focus shouldn’t be on further restricting gun access, but instead on school safety and mental health resources.
“They are not concentrating on the problem, which is finding a better way to prevent the tragedies before they happen,” Jacob said. “They’re pointing the finger at us and we are law-abiding citizens.”
Second Amendment supporters also filled the House gallery Friday night as lawmakers discussed the proposals at length.
The crowd became raucous after Rep. Charlene Lima told her fellow lawmakers that criminals are thanking them for passing these bills.
“They very much appreciate that the people that legally want to defend themselves will have less firepower than they will,” Lima said.
To that, Second Amendment supporters in the gallery erupted in applause.
But House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi wasn’t having any of it, and reminded everyone to remain respectful.
“I appreciate the passion of this debate and I appreciate everybody for being here in person, but we must maintain decorum,” he told the gallery. “If decorum is not maintained, I will clear the gallery, close it and everybody can watch it on TV.”
Gov. Dan McKee has repeatedly expressed support for the legislation. Following the votes, he thanked the House for passing these “common sense gun safety measures.”
“We’re one step closer to these bills reaching my desk and signing them into law,” he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up all three bills on Tuesday.