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Rhode Island legislators introduce an assault weapons ban bill

Raymond Baccari

Editor-in-Chief

Photo via Mohan Nannapaneni/Pexels

The push for an assault weapons ban in Rhode Island may be one step closer to becoming a reality. Both State Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67) and State Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28) has introduced legislation in their respective chambers to achieve this goal.


“Gun violence is a public health epidemic. We can and must do more to combat this scourge of violence,” Knight said Tuesday. “While I’m proud of the steps we have taken in the last few years in the General Assembly, we still have not banned high-powered weapons like AR-15s from Rhode Island. These firearms, the preferred weapon of many mass shooters, are powerful killing machines and we need to take steps to get them off our streets and out of our communities.”


The House version of this legislation, H 5300, would “ban the possession, sale, and transfer of assault weapons” if signed into law.


If the bill were to become law, violations would be “punishable by a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or up to ten (10) years imprisonment.”


Knight’s legislation has 41 cosponsors, and Miller’s Senate version of this bill will be introduced in the near future.


Both Miller and Knight have tried to pass this legislation before. Miller referenced those efforts when speaking about the bill Tuesday while making his case.


“We’ve been working on this legislation for years, and over that time we have honed it to ensure that it targets the excessively lethal weapons that have no legitimate purpose in our society,” Miller said. “We’ve done our homework. We’ve listened to every argument from those who don’t want limits on firearms. And in that time, we’ve also stood witness as literally thousands of Americans died in mass shootings carried out with assault weapons. Children in schools. People at celebrations and concerts. Family members and the elderly in the middle of church services. No more excuses for why not. The public deserves better than excuses that continue to allow assault weapons to be readily accessible to nearly anyone who wants to commit murder.”


The bill itself has support from all five of Rhode Island’s statewide elected officials.


Gov. McKee highlighted this policy goal in his State of the State address, saying in that speech, “let’s follow the lead of other states and send a bill to my desk that bans the sale of assault style weapons. I’m ready to sign that bill into law.”


Similar to the three pieces of gun control legislation signed by McKee last year, this bill is in for a hotly-contested debate.


Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz opposes this bill, saying, “Each year, the General Assembly gets more and more creative about ways to erode our state's Constitutions and the Second Amendment. This law will penalize law-abiding firearm owners. What we need is to enforce the laws already on the books and not allow violent criminals to walk our streets.”


House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale shared a similar sentiment.


“The recently introduced legislation called the “Assault Weapons Ban” is one of the most outrageous attacks on our natural and constitutional rights I’ve seen in the RI Legislature,” Chippendale said. “If passed, this bill will make no measurable change in criminal behavior with firearms, but it will make felons out of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Rhode Islanders.”


Chippendale also raised concerns about the focus of this legislation.


He said, “The focus of this legislation is not on preventing crime, it’s not on addressing violence, and it does nothing but shred our constitution and expose our taxpayer to millions of dollars in legal fees when it gets overturned in court - as it has been in other courts across the country. The singular focus of this bill is to eliminate private firearm ownership. It is submitted by individuals who have no understanding of, nor appreciation for our Bill of Rights and the reasons why we even have a Bill of Rights.”


In terms of how the House Republican Caucus will vote on the bill, Chippendale added, “The entire House Republican Caucus will be voting against this bill if it comes to a vote – just as we do every other bill that seeks to weaken our republic.”

As with all pieces of legislation, a major part in the process is getting the House and Senate leadership on board.


Larry Berman, spokesperson for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, told The Anchor that House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, “is keeping an open mind on the bill,” adding, “He supported the limits on magazine capacity last year. The assault weapons ban has been introduced and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, and the public will have the opportunity to testify.”


On the Senate side, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said, “Like all legislation that comes before the Senate, this proposal will receive an extensive review through the committee process.”


If signed into law, Rhode Island would add to the list of states who have passed an assault weapons ban. Currently, nine other states have passed bans, which includes Massachusetts.

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