Democrats out of step on gun control in R.I.
Often, the progressive movement in Rhode Island is portrayed as a local version of the national conversation inside the Democratic Party. Nationally, our party is having a vigorous debate over whether we should truly crack down on Wall Street, whether we should support economic growth through stimulus, and whether we should be satisfied with Obamacare or push for Medicare for all.
That is an important debate, but it is not the debate we are having in Rhode Island. Instead, we are fighting over the basics
— whether Rhode Island should repeal tax cuts for the rich, repeal the voter ID law, protect a woman’s right to choose and pass commonsense gun-control reforms.
Today, I want to focus on guns. In the Rhode Island House of Representatives, support for reform is shockingly low. For instance, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is also NRA-endorsed, but she “only” has an A rating, and she did sign onto a bill to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers
— something for which I give her real credit.
Cale Keable, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (which oversees most gun bills), also has an A. In the Senate, his counterpart, Judiciary Chairman Mike McCaffrey, has an A-plus. All of these politicians are Democrats.
Outside of Rhode Island, when Democrats side with the NRA, liberals often point to the organization’s incredible political power and endless stream of cash. But in Rhode Island, I don’t think that’s the full story.
To be sure, the NRA is very powerful in our state. Its local affiliate pays former House Speaker William Murphy, a conservative Democrat, as its lobbyist. It used to flood Rhode Island’s top General Assembly Democrats with cash. But after I led an investigation into the NRA’s campaign finances, it was forced to shut down its PAC until it paid a $63,000 fine. It has since paid the fine and reopened, but the cash flow has slowed down considerably. And Rhode Island’s NRA Democrats haven’t changed their views.
So I view it as a matter of core belief, not one of caving to the money or political pressure. I think Rhode Island’s NRA Democrats honestly believe in the NRA’s agenda.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence has worked hard to compromise. This year, instead of pushing for an assault weapons ban or a registry, the coalition is focusing on more incremental reforms: a high-capacity magazine ban, closing a loophole that lets guns into schools, and preventing domestic abusers from accessing guns.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the national group run by Michael Bloomberg, is also supporting restricting gun access for domestic violence abusers in Rhode Island. Even with this compromise approach, there has been very little progress. Last year, the domestic violence reforms received some support in the state Senate, but the House opposed them, and they never received a floor vote in either chamber.
President Obama has been explicit on how he feels about NRA Democrats. He wrote a powerful op-ed in which he declared, “I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support commonsense gun reform.” That statement couldn’t be clearer — Barack Obama does not support Rhode Island’s NRA Democrats.
Our federal delegation stands with the rest of the national Democratic Party on stopping gun violence. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives David Cicilline and Jim Langevin all support an assault weapons ban. In fact, Cicilline is the lead sponsor. As Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House minority leader put it, “Congressman Cicilline’s leadership on the issue of gun violence prevention in our communities has been relentless.”
I love President Obama’s passionate commitment to gun reform. I deeply admire the work Rhode Island’s U.S. representatives and senators have done to prevent gun violence. I just wish more of our Democratic state legislators agreed with them.