The carnage in Orlando should have inspired Rhode Island lawmakers to reconsider, and pass, several gun-safety bills that have languished before the General Assembly for three years. Instead lawmakers mostly punted. Astoundingly, they even veered toward loosening one type of restriction, on concealed-carry permits. Only after a last-minute appeal from the State Police superintendent, Col. Steven O’Donnell, did lawmakers back away from a measure that would have curbed the power of police chiefs to deny permits. Given that local law enforcement officers are more likely to know an applicant’s history than state officials would, preserving this discretion is important to protecting the public.
Perhaps most disappointing was the fate of a measure to protect domestic-violence victims. In a token gesture, the Assembly passed a bill that simply outlines a procedure by which anyone convicted of felony domestic violence must turn over firearms. A much stronger and potentially more effective bill would have brought Rhode Island into line with federal law, which bars firearms possession by anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, or while a restraining order is active. A poll commissioned by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence found overwhelming public support for this bill.
The Orlando shooter, like several of the more notorious mass murderers before him, brought a high-capacity assault-style weapon to the scene. Unfortunately, a bill before the General Assembly to limit high-capacity magazines also went nowhere.
Finally, although concealed weapons are not permitted in the State House, Rhode Island (along with only Utah) does allow them in all K-12 schools. Legislation to change this failed to receive a vote.
The Assembly’s appalling failure to improve gun safety rests largely with the leadership. Non-action on these measures should be another important issue in upcoming elections.
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