PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Senate’s Democratic leaders used a rare maneuver Tuesday to ensure passage of all three high-profile bills placing new restrictions on guns that cleared the House last week.
The closely divided Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday afternoon to approve two of the bills, one that would raise the legal gun-buying age from 18 to 21 and another that would make it illegal to openly carry a loaded rifle or shotgun in public.
But the committee rejected the third bill, which would ban high-capacity magazines that contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition, on a 6-6 tie vote.
(Story continues below video.)
Second Amendment supporters, who flooded the State House prior to the vote, cheered as lawmakers struck down the high-capacity magazine ban, which has been controversial from the start.
But their celebration was short-lived.
The committee only voted to reject the Senate version of the high-capacity magazines bill — so Senate leaders quickly moved to send the identical House version of the same bill straight to the Senate floor for the full body’s approval, bypassing the Judiciary Committee.
All three bills cleared the full Senate a few hours later, much to Second Amendment supporters’ dismay.
The crowd gathered in the Senate gallery became raucous and began chanting “vote them out” at the lawmakers below.
The renewed push for gun control locally has come in direct response to the recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas, the country’s deadliest school shooting since 2012. The House had passed all three gun bills last Friday following hours of heated debate between lawmakers.
“We are so heartbroken, so sick and so tired of the relentless slaughter of innocent people in this country, every single day,” Rep. Teresa Tanzi said in a statement Friday. “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.”
Brenda Jacob, president of the Rhode Island Revolver and Rifle Association, believes mass shootings shouldn’t be politicized. She said the focus shouldn’t be on further restricting gun access, but instead on school safety and mental health resources.
“We just feel like this is another piece of feel-good legislation that is not going to stop this from happening in the long run,” Jacob said.
But the sponsors of all three bills disagree.
Sen. Cynthia Coyne, the lead sponsor of the bill banning high-capacity magazines, argues that the weapons enable shooters to “unleash torrents of bullets and inflict maximum harm in mere seconds.”
“High-capacity magazines have no legitimate purpose for hunting or self-defense,” Coyne said. “They put the public, law enforcement officers and the user in greater harm. Making high capacity magazines illegal to sell and possess will enhance public safety.”
Sen. Michael McCaffrey said his bill making it illegal to openly carry a loaded rifle or shotgun in public will “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 open carrying of loaded rifles and shotguns has been exploited in certain places to intimidate voters and protestors and to suppress free speech,” he explained.
Sen. Maryellen Goodwin believes no one under the age of 21 should be allowed to possess a firearm.
“It is well-settled science that teenage and post-teenage brains are still developing,” she said. “It’s common sense that we shouldn’t be selling lethal weapons to people who we’ve decided are not old enough to buy cigarettes or beer.”
Gov. Dan McKee has expressed continued support for the legislation and signaled he would sign all three bills should they make it to his desk. Jacob indicated she expects gun-rights supporters to challenge the measures in court if they become law.