Providence Journal: General Assembly again to be front line for gun-control battle

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — With the gun-control debate returning to Smith Hill over the next week, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence has called a "Stand Up Rally'' for Thursday.

The rally — scheduled for 3 p.m. at the State House — will be followed by a news conference in the rotunda "to demonstrate public support for decreasing gun violence and to encourage our General Assembly to pass ... common sense gun laws,'' according to a statement issued by the organizers of the event.

The renewed drive centers, for now, on a series of bills scheduled for hearings by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and Wednesday that pit the National Rifle Association — and its allies in Rhode Island — against the state's equally fervent gun-control advocates. 

Coincidentally, three of the prominent lawmakers on both sides of the debate are holding fundraisers on the same nights as the hearings. One of the gun lobby's leading advocates, Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence, is having a 6-8 p.m. fundraising event at the Smoke Lounge in Providence on Tuesday. Two of the leading gun-control advocates — Representatives Edith Ajello, D-Providence, and Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown — are having a 6-8 p.m. fundraiser at Ogie's Trailer Park in Providence on Wednesday.

These are the top items on the gun-control coalition's agenda this year and the stated reasons for the group's support:

•No guns in K-12 schools: "The vast majority of states (39 plus Washington, DC) do not allow firearms on school grounds. Rhode Island is one of the few states that allows non-law enforcement concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns on school grounds. This law should be changed." (HB5861, S0743)

•No Guns for those convicted of domestic-violence misdemeanors: "Domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 [times] more likely to result in death than non-firearm associated assaults. Abused women are 5 [times] more likely to be killed by their abuser if their abuser has access to a firearm." (HB5872, S0520)

•A 10-round magazine maximum: "Larger magazines increase a gun’s firepower, enabling more shots before reloading and therefore are more lethal. CT, MA, MD, NY, and Washington DC have all limited high capacity magazines to 10 rounds; NJ limits magazines to 15 rounds, yet RI has no limit. In RI, hunters are limited to 5 rounds for deer hunting and 3 rounds for duck hunting."

Among those billed as speakers at the rally: Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza; the Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island; Myra Latimer-Nicholas, who lost her son to gun violence in 2011; Wendy Bowen, a retired teacher from Newtown, Conn.

The coalition RICAGV has partnered with 62 organizations, including the NAACP Providence Branch, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

Matching versions of some of the "weapons" and "firearms" bills up for hearing by the House Judiciary Committee have had hearings in the Senate. And the NRA has made no secret of its position in the news items it posts on its website.

In March, the NRA targeted its opposition to a bill co-sponsored by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed that would expand the list of those prohibited from purchasing, owning or carrying a firearm to include anyone convicted of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence. 

The House Judiciary Committee has posted a hearing for Tuesday on several versions of the bill, including one introduced on behalf of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

The Kilmartin proposal contains an exception, however, that illustrates the significance of the year-after-year efforts by the defense lobby to convince lawmakers to allow the expungement — or removal from public view — of many more criminal records, than current law allows.

For purposes of the gun restrictions he proposes, the attorney general's bill says: "A person shall not be considered to have been convicted of an offense if the conviction has been expunged or set aside, or is an offense for which the person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored, unless the pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not purchase, own, carry, transport, or have in his or her possession any firearm."

On the same agenda are bills backed by NRA-backed lawmakers in the House.

One calls for automatic renewal of carrying permits, once fees are paid. Current law says: "Every license or permit shall be valid for four (4) years from the date when issued unless sooner revoked.''

Another bill in this package would extend the time to six years, and replace the words "may issue'' with a directive to the attorney general to "issue a license or permit'' to carry a concealed weapon to anyone age 21 years or older who has not been convicted of a crime of violence, "upon a proper showing of need." It would also very specifically limit the questions the attorney general could ask on an application.

It would allow questions about citizenship, for example, but only about indictments for crimes punishable by more than a year in prison. 

"First and of course most importantly, the 'bad guys' who these bills are ostensibly meant to deal with, simply don't follow the laws — any laws. So to add more laws in the hopes of curbing 'bad behavior' when the badly behaving group does not concern itself with the law to begin with is foolish,'' said Rep. Michael Chippendale, a Foster Republican who co-sponsored a number of the gun lobby bills.

"Secondly,'' he said in an email exchange on Saturday, "we have many gun laws on the books now, and as we've learned by going through firearms-related arrest records in Providence for 1 year (I think the last time we did this was for 2012), most of the gun charges are secondary to other crimes and are dropped in plea agreements ... [so] we aren't using the laws we have and we shouldn't be naïve enough to believe that adding more laws will make them stick."

—kgregg@providencejournal.com


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