PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo is once again pushing for a package of gun control bills, including an assault weapons ban, that have failed to pass the General Assembly in past years.
Raimondo announced her gun control priorities along with Attorney General Peter Neronha at a news conference at the State House, scheduled on the first anniversary of the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year.
“Parkland, Las Vegas, Tree of Life, Sutherland Springs, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook,” Raimondo said, listing the locations of mass shootings in recent years. “The list goes on and on. In every single one of those instances that I just listed, lives were taken because of use of an assault weapon.”
Her three proposed bills have been slightly revised from previous versions that have been introduced. The bills would ban assault-style weapons, prohibit high-capacity magazines and ban guns on school grounds, with some exceptions.
Raimondo said the schools bill closes a loophole that has allowed concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns on school grounds. It would ban all possession of a gun within 300 feet of school grounds, unless on private property. It makes an exception for law enforcement officers or other contracted security officers at the school, or if the gun is unloaded and locked in a container in a car.
"You don't want guns in proximity to kids in schools, period," Raimondo said.
The assault weapons ban has been changed since its introduction last year, defining an assault weapon only by its features, leaving out a list of specific banned models that was in 2018's version of the legislation. The bill allows current assault weapons owners to be grandfathered in, but only if they register their gun with the state police and submit to a "fingerprint-supported criminal background check."
The ban on high-capacity magazines would limit these devices to 10 rounds or fewer. Those who own higher-capacity magazines would need to surrender, modify or sell them within 180 days of the ban becoming law.
Neronha said he knows no law will save all lives from gun violence, but they could save some lives.
"If making magazines smaller so that someone has to reload before they can fire again, and we buy one second, two seconds or three seconds, and a first responder can take that criminal out or the person can get away, that's worth it to me," Neronha said.
Major Mike Jagoda with the URI Police said he responded to the Sandy Hook shooting back in 2012 when he was a Connecticut state trooper.
"If you saw what I saw that day ... it would be hard not to convince you that there's no place for assault style weapons and high capacity magazines in our society," Jagoda said at the news conference.
Second Amendment advocates fiercely oppose the bills, arguing they violate the Constitution and, in the case of the gun ban at schools, could make schools a "soft target."
"That's leaving criminals to know the opportunity is there with less resistance," said Sen. Gordon Rogers, R-Foster. "Having a concealed carry permit, you don’t know who's on school grounds that have it .... That could be a deterrent if something does happen."
Frank Saccoccio, the president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition, said he opposes all three bills.
"Our children go to school every day with no protection, and Gina Raimondo's plan does nothing to enhance it, in fact our opinion is that it makes it worse," Saccoccio said. He said he supports installing metal detectors at schools.
Saccoccio said weapons like the AR-15, often referred to as "military-style," are used by civilians for home defense, sport shooting and hunting.
"When people say there is no need for them, that's absolutely 100% wrong," Saccoccio said.
Raimondo disagrees, calling them "military-style weapons that are weapons designed to kill and for no other purposes."
She also opposes putting metal detectors in schools.
"These are schools, they're not prisons," Raimondo said. "And where does that end? Metal detectors at movie theaters, metal detectors at church, metal detectors at the grocery store?"
The three bills have all been introduced in past sessions and died in committee amid opposition from groups like Saccoccio's, which is the state's NRA affiliate. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have received high ratings from the NRA, and resisted assault weapons bans in previous years.
On Thursday, Mattiello's spokesman Larry Berman said, "Speaker Mattiello has a long-standing record regarding this issue. The bills, when introduced, will go through the regular legislative process."
Greg Pare, a spokesperson for Ruggerio, said the Senate president "hasn't reviewed the new language of these bills."
"He will await the public testimony at a full and fair hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the guidance of the committee," Pare said.
The General Assembly did pass two gun control bills last year: one to ban bump stock devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire like an automatic, and a "red flag" bill that would allow courts to take guns away from people who are a danger to themselves or others.
According to the Associated Press, the new law has been utilized less than a dozen times since it took effect. Ten petitions for "extreme risk protection orders" have been filed, with nine being granted by a judge for 14 days. Two one-year orders were granted, and seven others are still pending.
Raimondo also convened a gun safety working group last year, which made several recommendations including the high capacity magazine ban and the ban on guns in schools. But the group stopped short of recommending an assault weapons ban, writing in its final report that the members couldn't come to a consensus, but that the majority of the group's members favored the ban. The recommendation was ultimately to raise the age of possession of a long gun to 21.
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